Recent space exploration missions

Rosetta is the name of the mission and spacecraft created to drop a probe on Comet 67 P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, study it from orbit and fly by an asteroid during the trip. It is a European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft, which launched on March 2, 2004 from Kourou, French Guiana. The distance required to travel and rendezvous with the comet was more than 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles), and the total cost of the mission is about  €1.3 billion (2.15 billion dollars). The trip to the rendezvous point took approximately 7 years (it arrived in June 2011), after which the Rosetta spacecraft went into hibernation mode until the comet reached it. On January 20, 2014 Rosetta came out of hibernation to prepare to land on the comet. Very little is known about comets, but they are thought to have been involved in the origin of life on Earth. Scientists hope studying comets will explain some of the mysteries of our Solar System. 

Mars Science Laboratory mission is currently underway and being conducted by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26, 2011 and traveled 352 million miles in 253 days. The Mars rover named “Curiosity” was aboard, and it’s goal was to find out if there has ever been life on Mars. Once on Mars, it analyzed samples from holes drilled in rocks or scooped from the ground. It also sends information back to Earth so scientists can analyze the materials on the surface of Mars. It’s mission has been extended indefinitely, and the total cost of the mission so far is about 2.5 billion dollars. 

The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has two Soyuz spacecraft, and one is always docked to the International Space Station. The Soyuz TMA is the vehicle by which astronauts launch from (from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan) and return to Earth. The journey to the space station from Earth takes two days, while the trip from the station to Earth takes only 3 1/2 hours. Three of the six astronauts aboard the space station are Russian. The name of the space station’s current mission is “Expedition 38” and it’s goals are to research cellular and plant biology, human health management for long term space travel and technology demonstration.

The Russian Federal Space Agency is second behind NASA for agencies that spend the most on space exploration, while the ESA is third. Since their programs began, NASA has spent $18 billion, Russia has spent 5.6 billion dollars and the ESA has spent 5.3 billion dollars. The agencies may be able to fund their missions by sending paying customers into space. Dennis Tito was the first such person, who paid 20 million dollars to take a trip aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the international space station. That was in April 2001 and there have been six other space tourists since him. And the space agencies get a lot of other support from citizens who find space exploration interesting and worthwhile.