Notable Unstaffed Lunar and Interplanetary Probes

Updated June 26, 2019 | Infoplease Staff

The following table lists notable unstaffed lunar and interplanetary probes launched into space since 1958, including spacecraft name, launch date, and destination.

Spacecraft Launch date Destination Remarks
Pioneer 3 (U.S.) Dec. 6, 1958 Moon Max. alt.: 66,654 mi. Discovered outer Van Allen layer.
Luna 2 (USSR) Sept. 12, 1959 Moon Impacted Sept. 14. First space vehicle to reach Moon.
Luna 3 (USSR) Oct. 4, 1959 Moon Flew around Moon and transmitted first pictures of lunar far side, Oct. 7.
Mariner 2 (U.S.) Aug. 27, 1962 Venus Venus probe. Successful mid-course correction. Passed 21,648 mi from Venus Dec. 14, 1962. Reported 800°F surface temp. Contact lost Jan. 3, 1963, at 54 million mi.
Ranger 7 (U.S.) July 28, 1964 Moon Impacted near Crater Guericke 68.5 hr after launch. Sent 4,316 pictures during last 15 min of flight as close as 1,000 ft above lunar surface.
Mariner 4 (U.S.) Nov. 28, 1964 Mars Transmitted first close-up pictures on June 14, 1965, from altitude of 6,000 mi.
Luna 9 (USSR) Jan. 31, 1966 Moon 220-lb instrument capsule soft-landed Feb. 3, 1966. Sent back about 30 pictures.
Surveyor 1 (U.S.) May 30, 1966 Moon Landed June 2, 1966. Sent almost 10,400 pictures, a number after surviving the 14-day lunar night.
Lunar Orbiter 1 (U.S.) Aug. 10, 1966 Moon Orbited Moon Aug. 14. 21 pictures sent.
Surveyor 3 (U.S.) April 17, 1967 Moon Soft-landed on Oceanus Procellarum 65 hr after launch. Scooped and tested lunar soil.
Venera 4 (USSR) June 12, 1967 Venus Arrived Oct. 17. Instrument capsule sent temperature and chemical data.
Surveyor 5 (U.S.) Sept. 8, 1967 Moon Landed near lunar equator Sept. 10. Radiological analysis of lunar soil. Mechanical claw for digging soil.
Surveyor 7 (U.S.) Jan. 6, 1968 Moon Landed near Crater Tycho Jan. 10. Soil analysis. Sent 3,343 pictures.
Pioneer 9 (U.S.) Nov. 8, 1968 SunAchieved orbit. Six experiments returned solar radiation data.
Venera 5 (USSR) Jan. 5, 1969 Venus Landed May 16, 1969. Returned atmospheric data.
Mariner 6 (U.S.) Feb. 24, 1969 Mars Came within 2,000 mi of Mars July 31, 1969. Sent back data and TV pictures.
Luna 16 (USSR) Sept. 12, 1970 Moon Soft-landed Sept. 20, scooped up rock, returned to Earth Sept. 24.
Luna 17 (USSR) Nov. 10, 1970 Moon Soft-landed on Sea of Rains Nov. 17. Lunokhod 1, self-propelled vehicle, used for first time. Sent TV photos, made soil analysis, etc.
Mariner 9 (U.S.) May 30, 1971 Mars First craft to orbit Mars, Nov. 13. 7,300 pictures, 1st close-ups of one of Mars's moons. Transmission ended Oct. 27, 1972.
Luna 20 (USSR) Feb. 14, 1972 Moon Soft-landed Feb. 21 in Sea of Fertility. Returned Feb. 25 with rock samples.
Pioneer 10 (U.S.) March 3, 1972 Jupiter 620-million-mi flight path through asteroid belt past Jupiter Dec. 3, 1973, to give man first close-up of planet. In 1986, it became first man-made object to escape solar system.
Luna 21 (USSR) Jan. 8, 1973 Moon Soft-landed Jan. 16. Lunokhod 2 (moon-car) scooped up soil samples, returned them to Earth Jan. 27.
Mariner 10 (U.S.) Nov. 3, 1973 Venus,
Passed Venus Feb. 5, 1974. Arrived Mercury March 29, 1974, for man's first close-up look at planet. First time gravity of one planet (Venus) used to propel spacecraft toward another (Mercury).
Viking 1 (U.S.) Aug. 20, 1975 Mars Carrying life-detection labs. Landed July 20, 1976, for detailed scientific research, including pictures. Designed to work for only 90 days, it operated for almost 61/2 years before it went silent in Nov. 1982.
Viking 2 (U.S.) Sept. 9, 1975 Mars Like Viking 1. Landed Sept. 3, 1976. Functioned 31/2 years.
Luna 24 (USSR) Aug. 9, 1976 Moon Soft-landed Aug. 18, 1976. Returned soil samples Aug. 22, 1976.
Voyager 2 (U.S.) Aug. 20, 1977 Jupiter,
Launched before Voyager 1. Encountered Jupiter in July 1979; flew by Saturn Aug. 1981; passed Uranus Jan. 1986; and passed Neptune in Aug. 1989.
Voyager 1 (U.S.) Sept. 5, 1977 Jupiter,
Flyby mission. Reached Jupiter in March 1979; passed Saturn Nov. 1980; passed Uranus 1986. As of July 23, 2010, Voyager 1 is over 17 terameters (1.7í—1013 meters, or 1.7í—1010 km, 110 AU, 15.7 light-hours, or 10.5 billion miles) from the Sun. It is currently still operational, making it the longest-lasting mission of NASA.
Pioneer Venus 1 (U.S.) May 20, 1978 Venus Arrived Dec. 4 and orbited Venus, photographing surface and atmosphere. Crashed into planet's surface mid-Oct. 1992 after circling Venus for 14 years.
Pioneer Venus 2 (U.S.) Aug. 8, 1978 Venus Four-part multiprobe, landed Dec. 9.
Venera 13 (USSR) Oct. 30, 1981 Venus Landed March 1, 1982. Took first X-ray fluorescence analysis of the planet's surface. Transmitted data 2 hours, 7 minutes.
VEGA 1 (USSR) Deployed on Venus,
June 10, 1985
Halley's Comet In flyby over Venus while en route to encounter Halley's Comet, VEGA 1 and 2 dropped scientific capsules onto Venus to study atmosphere and surface material. Encountered Halley's Comet on March 6 and March 9, 1986. Took TV pictures and studied comet's dust particles.
VEGA 2 (USSR) Deployed on Venus,
June 14, 1985
Halley's Comet See VEGA 1 above.
Suisei (Japan) Aug. 18, 1985Halley's
Spacecraft made flyby of comet and studied atmosphere with ultraviolet camera; observed rotation nucleus (March 8, 1986).
Sakigake (Japan) Jan. 8, 1985Halley's
Spacecraft made flyby to study solar wind and magnetic fields; detected plasma waves (March 11, 1986).
Giotto (E.S.A.) July 2, 1985Halley's
European Space Agency spacecraft made closest approach to comet (March 13, 1986). Studied atmosphere and magnetic fields. Sent back best pictures of nucleus. Flew by comet Grigg-Skjellerup July 10, 1992. Unable to send pictures.
Phobos Mission (USSR) July 7 and
July 12, 1988
Mars and
Two spacecraft to probe Martian moon Phobos starting April 1989. Were to study orbit and soil chemistry, and send TV pictures and data of planet. Contact was lost with Phobos 1 in Aug. 1988 and with Phobos 2 in March 1989 after it reached the Martian moon.
Magellan (U.S.) May 4, 1989 Venus Arrived at Venus on Aug. 10, 1990, and made a geologic map of planet with a powerful radar. Crashed into Venus Oct. 12, 1994.
Galileo (U.S.) Oct. 18, 1989 Jupiter To study Jupiter's atmosphere and its moons during 22-month mission.
Ulysses (U.S., E.S.A.) Oct. 6, 1990 SunTo study the poles of the Sun and interstellar space above and below the poles. First solar encounter was in 1994, second encounter in 1995.
Observatory (U.S.)
April 7, 1991 Earth orbit To make first survey of gamma-ray sources across the whole sky, studying explosive energy sources such as supernovae, quasars, neutron stars, pulsars, and black holes. Mission ended, it was deorbited and crashed into Pacific Ocean, June 4, 2000.
Clementine (U.S.) Jan. 25, 1994 Moon and
1620 Geographos
Entered lunar orbit Feb. 21 and took close-up photos of lunar surface for two months. Computer malfunction prevented planned rendezvous with Geographos.
Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) (U.S.)Feb. 17, 1996Asteroid 433 ErosPhotographed asteroid 253 Mathilde June 27, 1997. Entered into orbit around Eros Feb. 14, 2000, and landed on surface in controlled crash Feb. 12, 2001. Took detailed measurements and generated about 160,000 images of Eros. Renamed NEAR-Shoemaker in honor of geologist Eugene M. Shoemaker. First craft to orbit an asteroid.
Mars Pathfinder (U.S.)Dec. 5, 1996Ares Vallis, MarsLanded July 4, 1997. The spacecraft lander and its rover, Sojourner, provided a wealth of information on the Martian rocks, soil, and atmosphere. Sent back the first live pictures. All Pathfinder's objectives were fulfilled and communications failed on Sept. 27, 1997.
Cassini-Huygens (U.S., ESA, Italian Space Agency)Oct. 14, 1997SaturnFour-year mission to study Saturn, its rings, and moons. The Huygens probe was crashed into Titan in Jan. 2005.
Lunar Prospector (U.S.)Jan. 6, 1998MoonOrbited Moon for one year, mapped chemical composition of lunar surface. Found frozen water at north and south poles. At end of its mission on July 31, 1999, it was intentionally crashed into south polar crater in hope of detecting plume of water ice, but no cloud of molecular water vapor was observed by powerful Earth telescopes.
Deep Space 1 (U.S.)Oct. 24, 1998Deep spaceThe first launch of NASA's New Millennium Program, a series of missions to test new technologies. Famous for its July 1999 photos of the near-Earth Braille asteroid and the first-ever photos of a comet nucleus when it staged a risky flyby of the comet Borelly in Sept. 2001. The second phase of New Millennium, Deep Space 2, was launched in 1999, but NASA lost contact with it in Dec. 1999.
Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) (U.S.)Aug. 25, 2003Earth-trailing solar orbitFinal mission in NASA's Great Observatories Program which has four observatories studying the universe in different kinds of light—visible (Hubble Space Telescope), gamma rays (Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory), x-rays (Chandra X-Ray Observatory), and infrared (SIRTF).
Mars Exploration Rovers (U.S.)June 10, 2003 (Spirit); July 7, 2003 (Opportunity) MarsBoth rovers landed safely on Mars in Jan. 2004 and sent images back to Earth. Evidence of water was found by both rovers. On February 6, 2007, Opportunity had travelled more than 10 km (6 mi) on the surface of Mars. As of January 24, 2009, both Spirit and Opportunity had lasted for more than five years on Mars. They were intended to last only three months. On May 1, 2009, during its fifth mission extension, Spirit became stuck in soft soil on Mars. After nearly nine months of attempts to get the rover back on track, NASA announced on January 26, 2010 that Spirit was being re-tasked as a stationary science platform.
Rosetta (ESA)March 2, 2004 Comet 67P/Churyumov-GerasimenkoThe probe is named after the Rosetta Stone, as it is hoped the mission will help unlock the secrets of how our solar system looked before planets formed. The probe has flown by two asteroids and is scheduled to arrive at the comet in 2014.
Deep Impact (U.S.)Jan. 12, 2005Comet Tempel 1Probe smashed into comet while the flyby craft took pictures and collected data. The first look beneath the surface of a comet.
Chandrayaan-1 (India)Oct. 22, 2008MoonIndia launched its first unmanned spacecraft into space for a two-year mission to map a three-dimensional atlas of the Moon and search for natural resources on the Moon's surface.

U.S. Unstaffed Planetary and Lunar ProgramsSpace ExplorationU.S. Staffed Space Flight Programs
Space Exploration
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