Mission Discoveries

400 years ago, Galileo Galilei looked through a telescope and changed humanity’s view of the universe forever. He started a revolution that placed the Earth and Sun in their rightful place within a cosmos filled with innumerable stars and new distant worlds. In celebration of humankind’s first modern glimpse into the beautifully complex workings of our solar system and beyond, the world is celebrating 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy.

NASA’s science missions will continue Galileo’s legacy of observation and discovery during 2009 as they explore our solar system and the universe beyond. Use these resources and websites to travel through space and time with NASA in 2009!

Zoomable NASA Mission Images

Zoomable, click to view

View a collection of hi-resolution images collected by NASA satellites, landers, and telescopes. Each one can be zoomed to different levels of detail. Once zoomed in, you can pan around by simply dragging the images.

Milestones and Launches

The year 2009 promises to be rich in astronomical discoveries from space. NASA plans to launch missions designed to map the Moon in amazing detail, to search for planets around other stars, and to explore the origins, evolution, and destiny of the universe. NASA’s three Great Observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope, as well as many smaller missions, will also continue to bring us exciting discoveries.

Dawn: NASA’s Dawn mission is designed to orbit Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest asteroids in the Solar System. Dawn carried out a Mars flyby in March 2009.

Kepler: The Kepler mission seeks to discover Earth-sized planets around other stars by looking for small changes in the brightness of stars. Successfully launched in March 2009, Kepler will mark a new era in our understanding of our place in the universe!

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter: Scheduled to launch in June 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will provide the most detailed maps of the Moon to date, helping to prepare for and support future human exploration of the Moon.

Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite: The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will probe the dark floor of one of the Moon’s polar craters in search of evidence for ancient ice. LCROSS will travel to the Moon aboard the launch vehicle for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Planck: Planck will study the remnants of the radiation left over from the Big Bang with the highest accuracy ever achieved, and will answer one of the most important sets of questions asked in modern science - how did the Universe begin, how did it evolve into the way we see it today, and how will it change in the future?

Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4: Advanced capabilities stemming from Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4 will provide new insights into the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars, and planetary systems. The space shuttle Atlantis’s STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope is targeted to launch May 11, 2009.

Interstellar Boundary Explorer: The Interstellar Boundary Explorer Mission will study and map the very edge of our Solar System, where the hot solar wind collides with the cold vastness of interstellar space.

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy: The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the world’s largest airborne telescope, is a Boeing 747-SP aircraft that will carry a 2.5-meter telescope. Anticipated to begin operations in 2009, SOFIA is designed to observe star formation and the center of our galaxy in infrared light.

MESSENGER: MESSENGER is studying Mercury, the densest, smallest, and least explored terrestrial planet in our solar system, shedding light on the mysteries of the formation of all the inner planets. MESSENGER will carry out its third flyby of Mercury in September 2009.

Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer: The launch of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is planned for November 2009. WISE will map the sky in infrared light, searching for the nearest and coolest stars, the origins of stellar and planetary systems, and the most luminous galaxies in the universe.


100,000 Orbits - Congratulations to the Hubble Space Telescope!

HST, click to view

Launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope continues Galileo’s legacy with intriguing discoveries about our solar system, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and the universe. The Hubble Space Telescope completed its 100,000th orbit around Earth on August 11, 2008. Journey through the universe today with the Hubble Space Telescope at hubblesite.org, and join your neighbors and the world in celebrating the International Year of Astronomy in 2009!

To view selected images from the Hubble Space Telescope, click on the image above!


Learn More

Visit these websites to learn more about NASA telescopes and space probes:

»Telescopes from the Ground Up (New browser window)

»Solar System Exploration (New browser window)

»Infrared Astronomy Timeline (New browser window)

»Major Milestones In X-ray Astronomy - Chandra Chronicles (New browser window)

»Celebrate NASA's Past and Promising Future! (New browser window)

Helix nebula

Helix Nebula

The Helix nebula is a glimpse into our distant future. In about five billion years, the Sun will exhaust its nuclear fuel and blow off its outer layers into a shimmering cloud of gas.