| Mariette Le Roux |
PARIS (AFP) – In 1942, the Nazis’ V-2 rocket became the first man-made object to touch the fringes of space.
Since then, humankind has sent scouts around the Solar System to explore its central star, planets and other bodies.
If all goes well, another milestone will be reached next Wednesday when Europe lands a robot lab on a comet.
Here are other firsts in unmanned space exploration:
The first artificial satellite was launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, ushering in the space age and the Cold War tussle for the cosmos.
The beachball-sized, aluminium sphere took 98 minutes to orbit the Earth, and sent the first-ever message received from space.
Another pioneering satellite is NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, placed in near-Earth orbit in 1990, which has provided dazzling pictures of objects in deep space.
Another Soviet record, this probe was the first man-made craft to reach another celestial body, crashing into the Moon in 1959 and scattering Soviet pennants on its surface.
Its successor Luna 3 sent back the first-ever picture of the far side of the Moon later that same year, and Luna 9 made the first soft landing on the Moon in 1966.
This Soviet lander was the first to touch the surface of another planet – Venus, in 1966. A landing capsule was released successfully, but contact with it was lost and no scientific data was returned.
The first soft landing on a planet, also Venus, was achieved by Venera 7, four years later.
Venera 7 transmitted the first signals from another planet, and revealed that Venus, far from being a home from home, would be lethal for humans.
In 1973, the NASA spacecraft carried out the first flyby of Jupiter, swinging past the biggest planet of the Solar System at a distance of 130,000 km (80,000 miles).
In 1983, it became the first spacecraft to travel past the orbit of Neptune, the outermost of the acknowledged planets.
Pioneer 10 and its sister, Pioneer 11, carry aluminium plaques with the drawing of a man and a woman along with informa-tion indicating where the probes came from.
(VOYAGER 1 AND 2)
Launched in 1977 to explore further afield than ever before, Voyager 1 returned detailed photographs of Jupiter and Saturn before becoming, in 1998, the most distant human-made object.
In 2012, it entered interstellar space, the region between the stars.
Like its companion Voyager 2, which in 1986 became the first spacecraft to fly past Uranus, the vessel carries a 30-cm gold-plated copper disc.
The record includes a “greeting to the universe” in 60 languages, music and 115 images of Earth – complete with a stylus with which to play it.
Launched in 1989, this NASA mission became the first to go into orbit around a gas giant planet, Jupiter, in 1995. It carried a range of science instruments and an atmospheric probe.
It found evidence for liquid water oceans under the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
An innovative airbag cocoon cushioned the landing of this spacecraft on the Red Planet in 1997, from which emerged the first-ever wheeled rover, dubbed Sojourner, to explore another planet.
The first landing on an asteroid happened about 355 million-km from Earth in 2001, touching down at a gentle 1.5 metres per second.