All time astronomers have observed celestial bodies without being able to approach them. They have, however, dreamed and imagined many things. Their view was limited by the distance and by the Earth's atmosphere that blurred images.
Following the launch of Spoutnik 1 on October 4, 1957 and the first man in space, Youri Gagarine on April 12, 1961, it appeared that it was possible to travl to space.
In 1969, the man set foot on the Moon. He could finally see almost an alien environment. The Moon was and will be for a long time the only celestial body reached by man himself. Fortunately, robots, automatic probes may travel far, safely, and send images and original information to astronomers staying on Earth. From 1959, the probe Luna 1 approached the Moon. A long series of automatic probes launched through the solar system followed.
One will find below a short list of interplanetary probes that we have selected as examples some space missions which highly contributed to our knowledge of the Solar system.
1959: the probes Luna and Surveyor explore the Moon.
1969 : Apollo 11 followed by other Apollo missions.
Man sets foot on the Moon and damatic images arrive on Earth. Man walked on an extraterrestrial ground.
1972 : Mariner 4 and 9 succeeded to orbit around Mars. We discover the satellites Phobos and Deimos and the Martian valleys.
1972 : Pioneer 10
allows us to discover Jupiter and Pioneer 11 reachs Saturn.
Voyager will do better latter but the first results by Pioneer were a cornerstone of our knowledge of the outer Solar system. Pioneer 10 and 11 have now left the Solar system.
1973 : Mariner 10 flies over Venus and Mercury.
1975 : Venera 9 and 10.
These probes land on Venus and made us discover two different types of basaltic ground on Venus.
1975 : Viking 1 and 2.
Viking 1 and 2 were designed to fly over Mars and land. Panoramic images of Martian landscapes similar to our deserts were sent to us.
1977 : Voyager 1 and 2.
Voyager 2, which has now left the solar system, sent us the pictures and the most extraordinary information on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
1985 : Giotto.
This European probe was the first to fly over a comet (the one named Halley) and to send us pictures.
1989 : Magellan.
The thickness of the Venus clouds prevent us to see the ground. Magellan was equipped with a radar designed to provide us with images reconstructing the ground of Venus. The relief was so revealed.
1989 : Galileo.
The probe was able to stay longer than Voyager around Jupiter and sent more detailed images, particularly the surface of the Galilean satellites. Galileo has also fly over asteroids Gaspra and Ida, showing a satellite (named Dactyl) around Ida.
1990 : Hubble Space Telescope.
This telescope, 2 meters in diameter, was placed in orbit around the Earth. It did not approach planets, but, freed from the atmosphere of the Earth it provides us high quality pictures.
The probe Ulysses was launched on October 6, 1990 thanks to the space shuttle Discovery.
1995 : SOHO.
Soho is in orbit around the Sun on the Earth lagrangian point L1 to observe the Sun continuously.
1996 : NEAR
The NEAR spacecraft was designed to observe asteroids closely, particularly Eros around which the probe was put into orbit.
1996 : Mars Global Surveyor
Launched in 1996, it arrived in 1997 around Mars. This probe was aimed to observe the topology and the composition of the surface, the magnetic field, the atmosphere and the climate of the planet.
1996 : Mars Pathfinder
Launched on December 4, 1996, it landed on the ground of Mars on July 4, 1997. This probe put a small mobile robot on the surface of Mars. This robot returned its live images on the Earth.
1998: Deep Space One
Launched on 24 October 1998, the probe flew the Borrely comet and the asteroid Braille.
2001: Mars Odyssey
Mars Odyssey has been in orbit around Mars and used the braking by the atmosphere of the planet.
2003: Mars Express
Lauched on 2 >June 2003, the probe Mars Express arrived on 19 December of the same year.
Launched on 7 February 1999, the probe Stardust was designed to collect the interplanetary dust and to return it to Earth. During its trip, it approached the comet Wild 2.
2004: Mars Exploration Rover
Launched on 10 June and 7 July 2003, both probes arrived on the ground of Mars on 3 and 24 January 2004. Robots have traveled on the ground of Mars and sent many images.
2004: Cassini Huygens
Launched in 1997, the Cassini spacecraft used for planetary gravitational help to arrive in the Saturn system in 2004. The Huygens probe was parachuted on Titan.
Launched in February 2004 from Kourou, this probe returned close to Earth in March 2005, grazed Mars in February 2007, returned again close to Earth in November 2007 and November 2009 and arrived close to the target comet in May 2014 !
2005: Deep Impact
Launched in January 2005, this probe has come close to the comet Tempel 1 in July 2005 and lauched a bomb on it!
Launched in May 2003, the Japanese probe Hayabusa arrived near the asteroid (25143) Itokawa in November 2005. It would bring back a sample of rocks of the asteroid.
2006: Venus Express
Launched on November 9, 2005 from Baikonur, the probe Venus Express is in orbit around Venus since April 2006.
2006: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Launched in August 2005, the probe Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrived on Mars 2006.
2006: New Horizons
Lauched on 19 January 2006, the probe New Horizons will fly Pluto and Charon in July 2015.
Launched on 27 September 2007, the probe Dawn is traveling in the main belt of asteroids and observes the asteroids Vesta and Ceres.
Launched on August 3, 2004 from Cape Canaveral, the probe Messenger arrived near Mercury in January 2008 after coming back near Earth in August 2005 and near Venus in October 2006 and January 2007.
Launched on 18 une 2009, the probe LRO is mapping the Moon.
Launched on 26 November 2011, the probe MSL landed on the Moon on 6 August 2012 in the Gale crater.
Other missions are in preparation, particularly the JUICE mission to Jupiter's icy satellites to probe the ice in Europa.
In the future, other missions are on the way: "New Horizons" to Pluto, or planned to ice satellites (Europa and Enceladus) to probe the ice.