Space Exploration Timeline Title

2011 - 2020


March 18, 2011

First Spacecraft to Orbit Mercury

NASA's Messenger spacecraft becomes the first man made craft to orbit the closest planet to the Sun. The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft begins its mission to map and photograph the planet's surface in high resolution. It will also study the planet's thin atmosphere and search for signs of water that could lie frozen beneath the surface.

July 8, 2011

Final Flight of the Space Shuttle Program

The space shuttle Atlantis becomes the last American space shuttle to be launched into space. Mission STS-135 and its 4-member crew bring much-needed supplies and equipment to the International Space Station (ISS). This is the 135th flight of the space shuttle and the 33rd flight for Atlantis. On July 21, at 5:57 AM eastern daylight time, Atlantis lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and officially ends the 30-year space shuttle program. Atlantis will be cleaned up and placed on display at the Kennedy Space center starting in 2013. NASA will now look to private companies to provide transportation to low Earth orbit for the ISS and future projects.

July 18, 2011

Largest Space Telescope Launched

Russia launches the Spektr-R which becomes largest space telescope to be placed into orbit. Spektr-R is a radio telescope designed to study astronomical objects with an angular resolution up to a few millionths of an arcsecond. The telescope is intended for radio-astrophysical observations of extragalactic objects with ultra-high resolution. At launch, the giant telescope weighed 11,000 pounds (5,000 kilograms).

July 16, 2011

First Spacecraft to Orbit an Asteroid

NASA's Dawn spacecraft becomes the first man made craft to orbit an asteroid. Launched in 2007, Dawn enters orbit around the asteroid Vesta on July 16, 2011. Vesta is one of the largest asteroids in the Solar System with a diameter of 300 miles (530 kilometers). It is roughly the size of the state of Arizona and is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will remain in orbit around Vesta for about a year, studying and photographing its rocky surface. Dawn will then continue on to study another asteroid called Ceres.


May 22, 2012

First ISS Commercial Supply Mission

SpaceX, a commercial space company, launched its Dragon C2+ mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). The capsule was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The capsule was captured using the space station's robotic arm and was docked successfully. It remained docked for nearly six days while astronauts unloaded cargo for the space station and loaded Earthbound cargo onto the capsule. The capsule successfully returned to Earth, marking an important milestone for the commercial space program.

August 6, 2012

Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover successfully lands on Mars. It is the largest and most advanced rover ever to land on the red planet. Curiosity's mission is to investigate the climate and geology of Mars and to search the planet for signs of life. As large as a car, it carries an array of advanced new instruments and experiments.

August 25, 2012

First Man-made Spacecraft in Interstellar Space

NASA's Voyager 1 probe becomes the first man-made spacecraft to cross into interstellar space. Data received from the probe indicate that it has passed a barrier known as the heliosphere, which marks the extreme outer edge of the Sun's influence. Originally launched in 1977 to study the Solar System, Voyager 1 is now drifting in the space between the stars and is headed for parts unknown.

October 14, 2012

First Skydive Jump to Break the Sound Barrier

Australian skydiver Felix Baumgartner becomes the first human being to break the sound barrier without a jet or spacecraft as he jumps from the edge of space. A capsule attached to a helium balloon takes him 24 miles up and he sets a new record, breaking the previous record for highest jump set by Joe Kittinger at 19.5 miles in 1960. During his descent, he reaches a top speed of 833 mph (1340 kph).


August 6, 2014

First Spacecraft to Orbit a Comet

The European Space Agency's Rosetta space probe becomes the first spacecraft to enter orbit around a comet. After a 10-year, 4 billion-mile journey, Rosetta enters orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The spacecraft sends back amazing high-resolution images of the comet's surface showing steep 490-foot (150-meter) cliffs and boulders the size of houses. Rosetta will follow the comet as it approaches the Sun and will provide the first close-up images of as it heats heats up and changes to form the classic coma and tail.

November 12, 2014

First Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

The European Space Agency's Philae lander becomes the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on a comet. Philae is released from the Rosetta space probe and makes a perilous seven hour descent to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Harpoons designed to attach the lander to the comet fail to operate, and Philae bounces twice before finally coming to rest on the comet's surface. The spacecraft sends back valuable information about the composition of the comet.


March 6, 2015

First Spacecraft to Orbit a Dwarf Planet

NASA's Dawn spacecraft enters orbit around dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. At 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter, it contains 25% of the entire mass of the asteroid belt. Ceres is the only object in the asteroid belt massive enough to have a round shape due to gravity. Dawn will spend the next year in orbit around the dwarf planet studying its composition and features.

July 14, 2015

New Horizons Arrives at Pluto

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft arrives at Pluto after a journey of more than 9 years and 4.6 billion miles. As the spacecraft makes its closest approach, it passes only 7,750 miles (12,472 km) from the surface of the dwarf planet and captures amazing high-resolution images of Pluto and its largest moon Charon. New data shows that Pluto is about 50 miles (80 km) larger than previously thought and that it has a nitrogen atmosphere extending tens of thousands of miles out into space.