Important Missions of NASA

Cassini Huygens

  • Joint mission of NASA, ESA and Italian Space Agency to Saturn
  • Final flyby in 2017
  • 1st spacecraft to observe presence of hydrocarbon rains, rivers, lakes and seas on Titan.


Mars lander and Rover Mission


Mars’ lander mission under Discovery programme, Landed near the equator of Mars to study its interior.

Other Missions to Mars

  • Mars Exploration Rovers ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’.
  • Viking Mission also flew past Mars
  • MAVEN: Mars Atmosphere And Volatile Evolution Mission


  • Mars Rover Mission.
  • Formal ended recently


Mars Rover Mission

NASA’s Mission to Venus

  • Mariner 2: 1st flyby of Venus in 1962
  • Magellan: Orbiter Mission

Kepler Mission

  • Mission to search for Earth-like planets around the Milky Way galaxy that might harbour life.
  • Kepler Mission retired recently

Important discoveries

  • Kepler-22b: 1st planet found in the “habitable zone”.
  • A habitable zone or ‘goldilocks zone’ is a region around a star at a distance where liquid water could pool on a planetary surface and possibly support life.
  • TRAPPIST-1 system: home to seven Earth-size planets.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

  • Successor of Kepler Mission
  • 2-year mission in search of exoplanets.

Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite

  • Joint mission of NASA and NOAA to capture the illumination conditions using nighttime data.
  • Alternative method of estimating the level of economic development in the developing world.
  • Higher the illumination higher the GDP


  • Short for Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro-radiometer
  • Earth observation satellite of NASA
  • Monitoring large-scale changes in the biosphere to understand change in global carbon cycle.

Dawn Mission

  • Main aim was to study two important objects in the asteroid belt, Ceres and Vesta.

Ceres: A dwarf planet and the largest object in the asteroid belt

Vesta: a protoplanet, is the second largest object in the region.

  • 1st spacecraft to orbit a body in the region between Mars and Jupiter.
  • 1st mission to visit a dwarf planet.
  • NASA’s 1st deep space mission to be propelled by an ion engine

Chandra X-Ray Observatory

  • Named after the Indian- American astrophysicist Subramanyan Chandrasekhar.
  • X ray observatory to study X-Ray sources such as starts, galaxies, supernova, blackhole etc ( at high temperatures of 10^6 to 10^8 Kelvin, gases emit X-ray photons)
  • Thus, to study hot objects like inside of a star, supernova, centers of galaxies etc X-Ray telescopes are necessary.


  • Short for Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.
  • Joint project between ESA and NASA.
  • Main goal is to study the Sun, from its deep core to the outer corona, and the solar wind. (Remember Aditya: only Corona)
  • Objective of SOHO is to study the fundamental scientific questions about the Sun including
  • What is the structure and dynamics of the solar interior?
  • Why does the solar corona exist and how is it heated to the extremely high temperature of about 10 Lakh°C?
  • Where is the solar wind produced and how is it accelerated?


  • Short for Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment
  • Instrument on SOHO spacecraft.
  • A telescope designed to block light coming from the solar disk.
  • It studies how the corona is heated and where and how the solar wind is accelerated.

New Frontier’s Program

Aimed at exploring the solar system

Various missions under New Frontiers Program are

  • New Horizons – Launched in 2006 to investigate distant solar system object including Pluto and its moons and Kuiper Belt.
  • Juno – launched in 2016 to study Jupiter
  • OSIRIS-REx mission to collect samples from an asteroid (Bennu) and carry it to Earth for further study
  • Dragonfly – To be launched in 2026 to study Saturn and its icy moons

New Horizon

  • NASA’s space mission to Pluto
  • Also the 1st mission to explore the solar system’s region beyond the giant planets called the Kuiper Belt.
  • Ultima Thule is a small rocky and icy trans-Neptunian planetesimal in the Kuiper belt. (recent encounter of New Horizon)
  • Arrokoth
  •  Recently New Horizon encountered this primordial body in Kuiper Belt.
  • This is a planetesimal and thus will help us understand early solar system and its origin


  •  Lander Mission to Saturn’s Titan

Characteristics of  Titan

  • Nitrogen-based atmosphere
  • Clouds and rain of methane.

Discovery Program

  • It is a series of Solar System exploration missions.
  • It is a faster, better, cheaper planetary science missions of NASA.
  • Important Discovery missions
  • Lucy 
  • Psyche
  • Davinci
  • Io Volcano Observer
  • Veritas
  • Trident


  • 1st space mission to study the Trojan asteroids
  • Mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

Trojan Asteroids

  • The combined gravitational effect of Sun and Jupiter capture asteroids at two locations outside the asteroid belt called the stable Lagrange points
  • These asteroids trapped at Jupiter’s Lagrange points are called Trojan Asteroids.


  • A unique metal asteroid between Mars and Jupiter.
  • It appears to be the exposed metal core of an early planet. (made of nickel-iron like earth’s core)
  • Psyche Mission is NASA’s 1st mission to examine an object made not of rock and ice, but metal. 

DAVINCI and Veritas Postponed beyond 2030


  • Proposed atmospheric probe to Venus.
  • Short for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging
  • Main aim is to study the chemical composition of Venus’ atmosphere


  • Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission
  • Proposed mission to map with high resolution the surface of planet Venus

Io Volcano Observer

To study volcano on IO. (one of the Galilean moons of Jupiter)

Trident: Neptune’s moon

Proposed mission to study Neptune’s largest moon Triton.

Parker Solar Probe

  • It is the 1st ever visit to a star.
  • Robotic spacecraft  to probe outer corona of the Sun

Hubble Space Telescope

  • Largest multi-wavelength space telescope yet
  • Joint project of NASA and ESA
  • 600 km above the surface of the earth.
  • Aperture of the mirror: 2.4 m.
  • Can observe objects in visible, near-ultraviolet, and near-infrared light.

James Web Telescope

  • Successor of Hubble Space Telescope to be launched in 2021.
  • 2.5 times bigger than HST and thus 6 times more powerful.
  • JWST will orbit the Sun. (not earth like HST) 

Artemis (older)

  • Launched in 2007
  • Unrelated to new Artemis Mission.
  • Objective was to study effects of solar wind from a lunar orbit.
  • Deployed primarily to observe Moon’s interaction with the solar wind.

COBE Satellite

  • Short for Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE)
  • 1st to confirm CMB radiation


  • Space-based X-ray telescope
  • X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explorer
  • To study X-ray emissions from supernovae, galaxy jets, and black holes


  • Dedicated airborne instruments over Earth’s polar ice ever flown.
  • Provides a three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice.
  • Tracks the annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers and ice sheets
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