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Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

Real-life space travel across the solar system’s vast expanse is not for the impatient – it can take many years to reach a destination. The positive side is that our hardy robots are well engineered to take the abuse that the harsh space environment dishes out. This means they can return good science over the course of many years, sometimes for decades.

This week, we take a look at a few of our longest-lived planetary missions. All of them have been returning deep space dispatches to Earth for more than five years. Combined, their flight time adds up to more than a century and a half. The legacy of their exploration is likely to endure even longer.

1. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) – Launched June 18, 2009

Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

LRO captures crystal-clear views of the lunar landscape on almost a daily basis – and has been doing it for years. Thanks to LRO, we’ve nearly mapped the entire surface now at very high resolution. Learn more about LRO HERE.

2. Dawn – Launched Sept. 27, 2007

Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

The Dawn mission has been exploring the dwarf planet Ceres for just over a year now — but the Dawn spacecraft’s journey began long before that. After a trek from Earth to the asteroid belt, it made a stop at the giant asteroid Vesta before moving on to Ceres.

3. New Horizons – Launched Jan. 19, 2006

Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

With its ongoing discoveries based on the July 2015 Pluto flyby, the New Horizons mission is in the news all the time. It’s easy to forget the mission is not new — the spacecraft has been traversing the dark of space for more than a decade. New Horizons is now more than 3 billion miles (5 billion km) from Earth as it delves deeper into the outer solar system.

4. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) – Launched Aug. 12, 2005

Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

MRO recently marked a decade of returning spectacular images from Mars, in many more colors than just red. Peruse 10 years of MRO discoveries at Mars HERE.

5. Cassini – Launched Oct. 15, 1997

Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

As it circles through the Saturn system, the Cassini spacecraft is currently about 975 million miles (1.57 billion km) from Earth, but its total odometer reads much more than that. This long, spectacular mission is slated to end next year. In the meantime, it’s about to enter the “Grande Finale” stage.

Want to learn more? Read our full list of the 10 things to know this week about the solar system HERE.

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