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Space probes

Pioneer 10 space probePioneer 10 space probe To study other bodies in the Solar System, even the most powerful telescopes are limited in what images and other information they can provide. Manned space missions to other planets are dangerous and expensive. Most other worlds in our Solar System have environments that are too hostile or too distant for humans to explore (a trip to Neptune, for example, would take several years). In order to gather detailed information about other planets and moons, a number of space probes—unmanned, remote-controlled spacecraft—have been launched instead. Equipped with cameras and sensing equipment, they can transmit information back to Earth much more cheaply and safely.

Mariner 2Mariner 2


US spacecraft Mariner 2 became the first space probe successfully to reach another planet when it flew by Venus in December 1962. From a distance of 34,800 kilometres (21,600 miles), its detectors captured data from Venus’s surface. 

The first space probe to make a successful soft landing on the Moon was the Soviet Luna 9 in 1966. It sent back TV pictures after its protective “petals” opened. The US space probe Pioneer 10 was the first probe to travel through the asteroid belt and fly by Jupiter. Launched in 1989, the Magellan space probe used radar to “see” through Venus’s thick atmosphere and make images of its surface.

The Pioneer space probes were the first human-built objects to leave the Solar System.

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