Last year, we celebrated 50 years since humans first walked on the moon. That was a long time ago. Yet, we’re still exploring space today. What’s in the rest of our solar system? We’ve sent lots of spacecraft to find out. These missions are all unmanned.
One of the latest missions went back to the moon, but to a different part of it. The moon goes around Earth once a month. And the same side always faces Earth. That near side is the part we have always visited with men or unmanned spacecraft.
In 2019, China landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. It landed in a huge crater. Billions of years ago, a large object hit this area. It carved out the crater and kicked up rocks from the moon’s mantle. The spacecraft will study these rocks.
All landings—manned or unmanned—happened on the near side of the moon. An unmanned Chinese spacecraft recently landed on the far side.
manned Apollo missions
The moon is large, but it’s not a planet. Planets are large, round, and orbit, or go around, the sun. Our moon doesn’t orbit the sun. It goes around Earth. One of the nearest planets to Earth is Mars. People may travel there someday.
In 2018, the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) landed a spacecraft on Mars. It’s studying things that are happening inside the planet. In 2019, the craft detected the first “earthquakes,” or “marsquakes,” ever observed on the planet.
This artist’s rendering shows a spacecraft testing for Marsquakes.
Beyond Mars are lots of small, rocky objects that go around the sun. These are asteroids. Asteroids are small and irregular. They are important to study because long ago objects similar to them came together to build rocky planets like Earth and Mars. Asteroids may have valuable minerals we could mine someday.
Some asteroids come close to Earth. A Japanese spacecraft is exploring one named Ryugu. It is shaped like a cube with lots of boulders. Last year, the spacecraft shot a large "bullet" at the asteroid. The blast kicked up material, some of which the spacecraft caught and will bring home for study.
A United States (U.S.) spacecraft is exploring an asteroid named Bennu. The spacecraft will sample the asteroid and later bring that sample back to Earth.
This image shows the Bennu asteroid next to the Eiffel Tower, for scale.