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Exploring The Planets highlights the history and achievements of planetary explorations, both Earth-based and by spacecraft.


This section describes what early civilizations knew about our solar system and how astronomy developed over the centuries. The early theories describing the movements of the planets, development of the first telescopes, and discoveries of the planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are some of the topics addressed in Discovery. Here you will find the Pluto discovery plate, the photographic plate taken the day Pluto's position was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh.
Tools of Exploration
Here, you will learn about the tools used for past, present and future exploration. Learn about the Surveyor spacecraft, five of which landed on the Moon between June 2, 1966, and January 10, 1968. The Surveyor 3 television camera is on display. Also on display are an Apollo 13 rock box used to carry samples back from the moon. This exhibit covers Earth-based telescopes through interplanetary probes and links to many more tools of exploration that are on display throughout the museum.

Our Solar System
See just how big each planet and its major satellites are relative to each other in the scale model of the Solar System.  See where the planets are in relation to the Sun and to each other and learn just how big the Sun is compared to all the planets in our Solar System.
"Family of the Sun"
Families will enjoy this display, consisting of the "Family of The Sun" song (sung to the music of "Farmer in The Dell")  The physical exhibit in the museum  includes children's art displayed around monitors with images that go along with the song.

Each planet has an individual online section that gives an overview of what has been learned through imagery and data obtained from Earth-based and spacecraft exploration.

Find out what we know about the planet nearest the Sun.
Newly updated in 1997, this section of the gallery highlights the major discoveries made by spacecraft from Venera to Pioneer Venus to Magellan's unprecidented global radar mapping mission.
See what planetary exploration is telling us about our own planet.
Mars, the Red Planet
In 1976 we landed two Viking spacecraft on Mars. This exhibit gives an overview of the Viking missions and highlights the major findings. Viking 1 now belongs to the National Air and Space Museum; a plaque renaming the spacecraft the Thomas A. Mutch Memorial Station is on display with a Viking Lander in gallery 100. The Mars Pathfinder mission has paved the way for a new age of Mars exploration. Find out what we know and what we are planning to learn about the red planet.

What do asteroids look like? Where are they? What is a Near Earth Asteroid and how close is too close?  Find the answers to these questions and more.

The outer planets were first explored with Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft.  Current spacecraft missions are exploring Jupiter and Saturn. Pluto and it's satellite Charon, which have never been visited by a spacecraft, are next.  What do we know so far about the outer planets?  Choose one and find out.


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SI photo# 80-13717, D. Penland

The full-scale engineering test model of the Voyager spacecraft displayed in the Exploring the Planets gallery is similar to the two Voyagers sent to explore Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

This portion of the exhibit details the Voyager missions, the spacecraft and its instruments. The Voyager spacecraft hangs above the outer planets wall displaying images and information on the major discoveries made by Voyager 1 and 2.

Exploring Comets

This portion of the exhibit traces the study of comets from the earliest historical observation to the massive international Halley's Comet Watch. The impact of Comet Shoemaker-levy with the planet Jupiter became the first collision between two objects ever observed. Find out what comets are made of and where they come from.

Comparing the Planets

Which planets have volcanoes? Which planets have water? Find out how the planets are similar and how they are different based on what we have learned about thier features.

Planetary Explorer

The gallery's newest interactive. Visitors can test their knowledge of the solar system with this interactive space quiz.  The Best of The Solar System activity was designed as a curriculum package for students to study the planets the way scientists do.

What's New in Planetary Exploration

A special display highlights new and recent planetary missions and discoveries. Find out the latest information and link to more information directly from the source.

Exploring The Planets

1998 National Air and Space Museum