Astroprof picked his Seven Wonders of Space Exploration the past several days. He makes a good case for them: Sputnik 1, Vostok 1, Mariner 2, Apollo 11, Voyager 2, Mir, and the Space Shuttle.
Some close choices in my mind would be the very first human lunar mission, Apollo 8–maybe even above Apollo 11. That was a gutsy call to send astronauts to lunar orbit on just the third flight test ever of the Saturn V rocket and only the second manned mission in the Apollo project. The Shuttle has been almost nothing as advertised and it may well have set back human space exploration in the long run. It certainly has drained the space budget away from more worthy projects.
The Galileo and Cassini probes have to be up there on the list. It’s hard to imagine a Seven Wonders list absent the Hubble Space Telescope. And none of the Mars missions made it on Astroprof’s list. Hmm.
Seven seems too few. I need a top ten list instead with some honorable mentions:
Honor Roll (in no particular order): Lunik 3, capturing the first images of the lunar far side in 1959, Mariner 2 mission to Venus, the successful Ranger missions to the moon, Surveyor 7 landing near Tycho, the Apollo 13 mission, Apollos 15, 16, and 17 for their scientific exploration, the Mariner 9 Mars orbiter, the Apollo-Soyuz mission, the Viking landers in ’76, Skylab, Mir and the ISS, ESA’s mission to Halley’s Comet, Magellan’s radar mapping of Venus, the NEAR mission to the asteroid Eros, and New Horizons.
10. Sputnik 1 (1957): If not for the infighting amongst the branches of the US military, the US would have put up a satellite months earlier. But the USSR got there first, and it certainly was the technological achievement of the decade, H-bombs notwithstanding.
9. Cassini (1997-date): Amazing discoveries at the planet Saturn seem routine.
8. Mars Pathfinder (1996-98) : a balloon cushion landing and the first space probe to gain an internet following.
7. Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity (2003-date): Will these machines never stop? It’s insane they’re still operating years after they were designed to expire.
6. Galileo (1989-2003): despite a seven-year launch delay, a total mission reworking, and a stuck antenna that nearly sunk the mission, Galileo spent eight years exploring Jupiter and its moons. Not to mention the first close encounters with asteroids. Not as much data as the Cassini mission, but a tough little probe that reflected the ingenuity of human designers and mission planners.
5. Vostok 1 (1961): The first human space mission. It was only one orbit, and Gagarin didn’t even land with his spacecraft (parachuting out 5 miles above the landing site), but it was still a remarkable achievement.
4. Apollo 8 (1968): a very un-NASA-like gamble, the iconic image of Earthrise over the lunar horizon, and the reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve–more than literally, this was high adventure at its best.
3. Hubble Space Telescope (1990-date): opening the universe to the imagination of earthlings everywhere. Not to mention the science.
2. Voyager 2 (1977-date) : one mission, four planets, a generation of inspiration.
1. Apollo 11 (1969): the human achievement of the millennium; what else could top this list?