ON THIS PAGE

    Introduction

    Two robotic spacecraft are currently exploring asteroids up close: NASA's OSIRIS-REx is in orbit at asteroid Bennu and Japan's Hayabusa 2 is preparing to collect samples from asteroid Ryugu. Meanwhile, NASA's NEOWISE spacecraft, orbiting Earth, continues to improve on the most accurate survey of near-Earth objects every undertaken.

    Animated GIF of spacecraft leaving asteroid
    Images taken with Hayabusa 2's small monitor camera (CAM-H) during the Touchdown 1 Rehearsal 3 operation (TD1-R3). One image was captured every second from immediately after the spacecraft began to ascend on Oct. 25, 2018. Credit: JAXA)

    The Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based radar observatories also contibute regularly to our understanding of asteroids. Several more missions, including NASA's Psyche and Lucy, missions are in development to keep exploring these small worlds. Scientists also use ground-based radar to explore nearby asteroids whenever possible.

    Exploration Highlights

    Exploration Highlights

    • NASA's Galileo mission was the first spacecraft to fly past an asteroid. It flew past asteroid Gaspara in 1991 and Ida in 1993.
    • NASA's Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR-Shoemaker) mission studied asteroids Mathilde and Eros; and the Rosetta mission encountered Steins in 2008 and Lutetia in 2010. Deep Space 1 and Stardust both had close encounters with asteroids.
    • In 2005, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa landed on the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa and attempted to collect samples. On June 3, 2010, Hayabusa successfully returned to Earth a small amount of asteroid dust now being studied by scientists.
    • NASA's Dawn spacecraft, launched in 2007, orbited and explored asteroid Vesta for over a year. Once it left in September 2012, it headed towards dwarf planet Ceres, with a planned arrival of 2015. Vesta and Ceres are two of the largest surviving protoplanet bodies that almost became planets. By studying them with the same complement of instruments on board the same spacecraft, scientists will be able to compare and contrast the different evolutionary path each object took to help understand the early solar system overall.

    Notable Explorers

    Missions

    Careers

    10 Careers That Explore Space

    1

    Astronaut

    Astronauts pave the way for human exploration beyond our Earth. They are pilots, scientists, engineers, teachers, and more.

    2

    Project Manager

    Project managers guide missions from concept to completion, working closely with team members to accomplish what they set out to do.  

    3

    Rover Camera Operator

    A camera payload uplink lead writes software commands that tell a rover what pictures to take.

    The first thing that fired my imagination for planetary science was when the NASA Voyager spacecraft discovered active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io.

    4

    Artist

    Melding science with design, artists create everything from large-scale installations to the NASA posters hanging in your bedroom. 

    5

    Media Specialist

    Media specialists tells stories across social media and help feature missions and people on TV and in films, books, magazines, and news sites. 

    6

    Writer/Producer

    Writers/producers capture the incredible stories of NASA's missions and people and share them with the world. 

    7

    Administrator/Director

    Administrators and directors work out of NASA headquarters, prioritizing science questions and seeking to expand the frontiers of discovery.

    8

    Educator

    Whether it's introducing kids to space or teaching physics to PhD candidates, educators help share their knowledge with the public.

    9

    Engineer

    Engineers design and build all types of machines, from what a spacecraft looks like to the software that directs where a rover goes each day. 

    10

    Scientist

    From an astrophysicist to a volcanologist, scientists of all types pose questions and help find answers to the mysteries of our universe.

    The important thing about being a scientist or an engineer is learning how to think critically, learning how to be creative, learning problem solving and learning how to learn.

    Explore in 3D

    Eyes on the Solar System  Ad

    Eyes on the Solar System

    Fly along with the Dawn mission as it explorers Ceres and the asteroid belt with NASA’s free Eyes on the Solar System software. Eyes lets you explore the planets, their moons, asteroids, comets and the spacecraft exploring them from 1950 to 2050 all from the comfort of your home computer.

    › Explore in 3D

    Related News