The best spacecraft of all time

(Pocket Ribbon) – Ever since Yuri Gagarin skimmed Earth’s upper atmosphere in 1961 as part of the first manned flight into space, the world has been obsessed with our near and far universe.

The technological advancements of one mission helped influence the next, allowing us to go further and deeper into our solar system and beyond.

From Gagarin’s Vostok 1 craft to the Parker Solar Probe on course to fly past the sun, we’ve rounded up the best spacecraft ever flown.

Vostok 1

The mission credited as a kickstart to everything, Vostok 1 was the craft that took the first humans into space.

Launched on April 12, 1961, the Vostok 3KA capsule transported Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into a single orbit around the Earth. Gagarin spent 108 minutes in flight before jumping to the ground and landing about 275 miles from the launch pad in Baikonur.

The successful launch was broadcast on Soviet radio before Gagarin even landed, and it was a major advance in the US-USSR Space Race.


No collection of top spacecraft would be complete without reference to the Apollo mission, and especially Apollo 11.

The infamous flight, and equally iconic lunar module, represents an important part of human spaceflight efforts.

And every other spacecraft on this list is indebted to both the technological and cultural advancements of the Apollo success. The landing was so important that it was shown live on TV to millions of people, at a time when television was relatively new and ended the Space Race, which led to the end of the Cold War between the US and USSR.

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International Space Station (ISS)

One of the most iconic and impressive spacecraft to ever leave Earth’s atmosphere is the International Space Station, or ISS.

For more than two decades, it has been home to astronauts from the US, Europe, Japan and Russia and serves as an orbiting science lab where the crew can test various tasks in microgravity and the harsh environments of space.

Not only does it show what can be achieved when space agencies work together, but it has also taught us a wealth of knowledge that we will need if we ever want to explore other planets, and it has helped us see Earth in ways that we have never seen before. previously thought conceivable.

In addition, the 20-year-old technique has stood the test of time. It is expected to remain in operation until 2030.

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Voyager 1 and 2

Despite its name, Voyager 2 was actually the first of NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft to be launched into space in the summer of 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1.

Its name is derived from the fact that it would reach the mission destinations Saturn and Jupiter after Voyager 1. After taking some of the first images of the Earth and the moon together, the Voyager mission arrived at Jupiter in 1979, followed by Saturn. the following year and on Uranus and Neptune.

On Valentine’s Day 1990, the last pictures of the mission were taken by Voyager 1 as it orbited 14 billion miles from the sun. The photos it took are the only collection that shows Venus, Earth, Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune together.

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Mars Express

About 30 years after NASA landed its Viking craft on the Red Planet in 1971, the European Space Agency launched its own mission to Mars.

In December 2003, the Mars Express successfully orbited the planet and began its scientific studies in early 2004. Sadly, it lost contact with its lander, Beagle-2, named after the ship Charles Darwin set out on to explore Earth in 1831, shortly after the approach of Mars. The Mars Express is equipped with seven instruments designed to study the planet’s atmosphere and climate and the mineralogy and geology of its surface.

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Hubble telescope

Like the ISS, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is an iconic spacecraft that has captured the imagination of space enthusiasts for decades.

It became the first astronomical observatory to be placed in orbit after its launch on April 24, 1990 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and spends its days orbiting the planet capturing incredible images of space.

Hubble completes 15 orbits a day, 340 miles above the Earth’s surface. In its 29 years of service, it has helped unravel the secrets of asteroids, create the most amazing images of nebulae, break the blue hue of Uranus and assist thousands of astronomers in their scientific studies. You can even see what Hubble is watching right now on the Space Telescope Live Place.

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Deep consequences

Nearly a decade before Rosetta and Philae arrived at 67P, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft crashed into a comet called Tempel 1.

On Independence Day, 2005, the Impactor collided with the comet’s nucleus. Photos taken by the spacecraft showed that the impact created a large and bright cloud of dust that blocked the view of the impact crater that scientists had hoped to study.

However, that did not make the mission a failure. Astronomers were able to determine that the comet came from the Uranus and Neptune Oort cloud region of the solar system and it gave them fascinating insights that aided the Rosetta mission.

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Rosetta and Philae

In 2014, ESA achieved what many thought was impossible. It landed a small spacecraft called Philae on the surface of a comet as it hurtled through space at speeds of up to 84,000 mph.

The lander was transported and released by a spacecraft called Rosetta, launched from a location in French Guiana in 2004.

It took ten years to reach its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which passed through the asteroid belt and recorded massive amounts of data, before concluding its mission in 2016.

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After learning some lessons about Jupiter, and how to get there, from the Voyager mission, NASA sent a special probe called Galileo (after the Italian astronomer) to the gas giant in late 1989.

It took six years to arrive and spent more than eight years in orbit. It suffered antenna damage during this orbit, but was still able to image a comet colliding with Jupiter and discover the first asteroid moon. NASA intentionally ended the mission by flying Galileo into Jupiter’s atmosphere in 2003.

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Its mission was only supposed to last four years, but in 2017 the Cassini-Hyugens spacecraft dove into Saturn’s atmosphere after studying the planet and its system for 13 years, and a total of 20 years in space.

The spacecraft was carrying both NASA’s Cassini probe and ESA’s Huygens lander, which landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in January 2005. Cassini was the fourth probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter its orbit.



Once Galileo was safely out of orbit, NASA turned its attention to its Juno mission. Named after the goddess Juno, the spacecraft developed the technologies of its predecessor to launch a second probe to Jupiter in 2011.

It entered Jupiter’s orbit five years after launch on July 5, 2016. Just a month later, it captured images of the planet’s north pole for the first time. Since then, Juno has captured stunning views from storms in the south to a close-up view of the planet’s Great Red Spot. The instruments on board are designed to measure Jupiter’s composition, gravitational field, magnetic field and polar magnetosphere. It is also looking for clues as to how the planet came to be.

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Parker solar probe

While there have been some incredible “firsts” in our exploration of the universe, one mission that has even the most cynical astronomers excited is the Parker Solar Probe mission. It is humanity’s first attempt to visit a star and is designed to get to know our sun up close.

At its closest approach to the sun, the Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds of 430,000 mph and temperatures of 1,377 C in its attempt to solve the 60-year-old mysteries of how energy and heat move through the solar corona. It will also help us learn about the science behind solar wind and solar particles. It was launched in August 2018 and is expected to complete its mission in 2026.

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SpaceX Dragon

SpaceX’s Dragon has been in operation for nearly a decade and made history in 2012 by becoming the first commercial spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station.

SpaceX has a deal with NASA under the space agency’s Commercial Resupply Services to carry cargo to and from the manned station.

SpaceX built the Dragon with a view to carrying astronauts alongside its payload for a day, but recent tests of the Crew Dragon failed due to a “deviation,” so further testing is needed.

The James Webb Telescope

The James Webb telescope is the most powerful telescope ever (so far) launched into space. It is a fascinating design with 18 hexagonal mirror segments made of gold-plated beryllium 18 hexagonal mirror segments made of gold-plated beryllium.

Development started all the way back in 1996, but the launch didn’t take place until 2021. That launch was also a delicate process, and incredibly careful engineering had to be done into the telescope, which would not only have to set its sails when it reached its destination, but also survive extreme cold and extreme heat.

This telescope will be deployed in orbit around the sun near the Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2, about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth.

It can capture more data than Hubble thanks to a design with a light collecting area about six times that of Hubble. The mission is slated to last 10 years, but it could go on for as long as 20 years recording vital data about the universe.

Written by Victoria Woollaston. Editing by Adrian Willings.

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