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Construction of the International Space Station by Europe, Japan, Canada, Russia and the USA started in 1998 and is still going on today. The International Space Station is the largest object that humans have ever put into orbit. It will be used by astronauts to do science until at least the year 2020.
Space exploration doesn’t just mean sending people into space. We also send machines. Voyager I and Voyager II, launched in 1977, have almost reached the edge of the Solar System and will soon be exploring deep space. They have travelled further from Earth than any other space craft made by man.
Voyager I and Voyager II visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto on their journey through the Solar System.
Apart from the Moon, the most popular place to send unmanned space expeditions is to Mars. Since the year 2000, there have been 10 unmanned expeditions to Mars, including putting spacecraft into orbit around Mars and landing machines called rovers to explore the surface.
Some scientists think that creatures may have lived on Mars millions of years ago, when Mars was warmer and had more air – NASA sent the rover Curiosity to Mars in 2012 to look for evidence of life. They haven’t found it yet, but they are going to keep on looking!
Sending people to investigate Mars might take up to six months just to travel there. Even simple things like making sure that you have enough food to eat are difficult when you have to pack everything into your spacecraft before you leave. You can’t come back if you’ve forgotten something!
During the 1950s and 1960s there was a “Space Race” between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Both countries thought it was important to be the first to do things in space and were very proud of their achievements. The Soviet Union put the first satellite and the first man into orbit, but the USA was the first to send a man to the Moon.
Now private companies are starting to fly into space too. Virgin Galactic sells tickets for a short trip into space for £130,000! Passengers won’t go high enough to go into orbit, but they will spend about six minutes in space. The whole trip will take two and a half hours from take-off to landing.
Words to know:
Astronaut – a person who has travelled in space
Curiosity – a large rover sent to Mars by NASA to look for signs of life
ESA – the European Space Agency, which consists of all the countries in Europe working together on missions to explore space
NASA – the North American Space Agency, which is the organisation from the USA that explores and investigates space
Orbit – When something goes into orbit, it is high enough that it keeps circling the Earth, instead of falling back to the ground.
Rocket – Rockets burn a lot of fuel to get to very high speeds very quickly. You have to do this if you want to get from the surface of the Earth into orbit.
Rover – a mobile robot sent to land on another planet or moon and explore
Satellite – a machine put into orbit around the Earth, and often used for science or communications
Spacecraft – a vehicle for travelling in space or into space
Space Shuttle – Made by NASA, this is the most famous type of spacecraft to be made.
Space station – a permanent structure in space where astronauts can live and work
Spacesuit – special airtight clothes that keep an astronaut safe and warm outside their spacecraft
Sputnik – the first satellite to be put into orbit around Earth
Voyager I and Voyager II – spacecraft that were sent to explore the outer parts of the Solar System