This is a wonderful time to be alive. New technologies have made exploring other planets possible. We are now able to transport people, and robots, to places we could only dream of not too long ago. Apollo astronauts have walked on the Moon and the Pathfinder Rover is now driving around the planet Mars looking for clues to its past.
On October 4, 1957, Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite, was launched by what was the Soviet Union. Sputnik, russian for satellite, weighed four tons and traveled, or orbited, around the Earth once every 96 minutes. Sputnik's success started a "space race" between the Soviet Union and the United States. Finally on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another world, the moon. The Apollo astronauts returned with hundreds of pounds of rocks, and othere material, which has helped scientists to learn a lot about the Moon and its history.
Today, NASA's Space Shuttle orbits the Earth for weeks at a time to conduct scientific experiments, and there are plans to build a space station. The Russian Mir Space Station has had astronoauts on it since 1986, with some astronauts staying onboard for more than a year at a time. The USA and Russia now work together on many projects, and American astronauts have been aboard the Mir space station and we have used the space shuttle to help repair it when it was having problems.
While we mostly only hear about the space projects that have astronauts aboard, there are many space projects that are unmanned. Robot spacecraft have travelled to all the planets, except Pluto. The two Voyagr spacecraft flew past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Magellan looked through the thick clouds of Venus, mapping the planet. Two Viking spacecraft landed on Mars, and the Pathfinder is currently cruising around, studying soil for signs of life. For the first time on a project like Pathfinder we are able to see what the Rover is seeing almost right away through pictures on the Internet.
Through our manned and unmanned space programs, we are some of the first humans in history to explore
the moon, planets, asteroids
and comets that we share our solar system with.