Firsts in the History of Deep Space Exploration

Absolute Firsts

First attempt to launch a probe into deep space: USA / Able 1 [Pioneer 0] / 17 August 1958

First probe to reach escape velocity: USSR / Soviet Space Rocket [Luna 1] / 2 January 1959

First spacecraft to impact on another celestial body: USSR / Second Soviet Space Rocket [Luna 2] / 14 September 1959 (Moon)

First successful planetary mission: USA / Mariner II / 14 December 1962 (Venus)

First spacecraft to impact another planet: USSR / Venera 3 / 1 March 1966 (Venus)

First spacecraft to make a survivable landing on a celestial body: USSR / Luna 9 / 3 February 1966 (Moon)

First spacecraft to orbit a celestial body other than Earth or the Sun: USSR / Luna 10 / 2 April 1966 (Moon)

First successful planetary atmospheric entry probe: USSR / Venera 4 / 18 October 1967 (Venus)

First liftoff from another celestial body: USA / Surveyor VI / 17 November 1967 (Moon)

First transmission from the surface of another planet: USSR / Venera 7 / 15 December 1970 (Venus)

First robotic spacecraft to recover and return samples from another celestial body: USSR / Luna 16 / 12–21 September 1970 (Moon)

First wheeled vehicle on another celestial body: USSR / Lunokhod 1 / 17 November 1970 (Moon)

First spacecraft to fly through the asteroid belts: USA / Pioneer 10 / out in February 1973

First spacecraft to use gravity assist to change its interplanetary trajectory: USA / Mariner 10 / 5 February 1974 (at Venus)

First spacecraft to fly past multiple planets: USA / Mariner 10 / 5 February 1974 (Venus) and 29 March 1974 (Mercury)

First spacecraft to transmit photos from the surface of another planet: USSR / Venera 10 / 22 October 1975 (Venus)

First spacecraft to orbit a libration point: USA / ISEE-3 / 20 November 1978 (Sun-Earth L1)

First spacecraft to fly past a comet: USA / ISEE-3 / 11 September 1985 (Comet Giacobini-Zinner)

First spacecraft to use Earth for a gravity assist: ESA / Giotto / 2 July 1990

First spacecraft to use aerobraking to reduce velocity: Japan / Hiten / 19 March 1991

First spacecraft to fly past an asteroid: USA / Galileo / 26 October 1991 (951 Gaspra)

First commercial spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Moon: None / Asiasat 3- HGS-1 / 13 May 1998

First wheeled vehicle on a planet: USA / Sojourner / 5 July 1997 (Mars)

First spacecraft to use ion propulsion as primary propulsion in deep space: USA / Deep Space 1 / 24 November 1998

First spacecraft to orbit an asteroid: USA / NEAR Shoemaker / 14 February 2000 (433 Eros)

First spacecraft to land on an asteroid: USA / NEAR Shoemaker / 12 February 2001 (433 Eros)

First spacecraft to return extraterrestrial material from beyond lunar orbit: USA / Genesis / Returned 8 September 2004

First spacecraft to use a solar sail as primary propul-sion in deep space: Japan / IKAROS / 9 July 2010

First spacecraft to orbit a body in the main asteroid belt: USA / Dawn / 16 July 2011 (4 Vesta)

First spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet: USA / Dawn / 7 March 2015 (1 Ceres)

First detection of seismic activity on another planet: USA / InSight / 6 April 2019 (Mars)

The Moon

First lunar probe attempt: USA / Able 1 [Pioneer 0] / 17 August 1958

First spacecraft to impact the Moon: USSR / Second Soviet Space Rocket [Luna 2] / 14 September 1959

First spacecraft to fly by the Moon: USSR / Automatic Interplanetary Station [Luna 3] / 6 October 1959

First to photograph farside of the Moon: USSR / Automatic Interplanetary Station [Luna 3] / 6 October 1959

First survivable landing on the Moon: USSR / Luna 9 / 3 February 1966

First soft-landing on the Moon: USA / Surveyor I / 2 June 1966

First spacecraft to orbit the Moon: USSR / Luna 10 / 2 April 1966

First liftoff from the Moon: USA / Surveyor VI / 17 November 1967

First successful circumlunar mission: USSR / Zond 6 / 14–21 September 1968

First robotic return of soil sample from the Moon: USSR / Luna 16 / 12–21 September 1970

First wheeled vehicle on Moon: USSR / Lunokhod 1 / 17 November 1970

First commercial spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the Moon: None / Asiasat 3- HGS-1 / 13 May 1998

The Sun

First probe into heliocentric orbit: USSR / Soviet Space Rocket / 2 January 1959

First spacecraft tracked behind the Sun: USA / Pioneer 6 / 24-26 November 1968

First spacecraft to view the poles of the Sun: ESA / Ulysses / September 2000 to January 2001

Mercury

First spacecraft to fly by Mercury: USA / Mariner 10 / 29 March 1974

First spacecraft to orbit Mercury: USA / MESSENGER / 18 March 2011

Venus

First attempt to send a spacecraft to Venus: USSR / Heavy Satellite / 4 February 1961

First spacecraft to successfully fly past Venus: USA / Mariner II / 14 December 1962

First spacecraft to impact Venus: USSR / Venera 3 / 1 March 1966

First successful atmospheric entry into Venus: USSR / Venera 4 / 18 October 1967

First soft-landing and return of surface data from Venus: USSR / Venera 7 / 15 December 1970

First surface photos of Venus: USSR / Venera 10 / 22 October 1975

First spacecraft to orbit Venus: USSR / Venera 10 / 22 October 1975

First spacecraft to image the entire surface of Venus: USA / Magellan / 1990–1994

Mars

First Mars probe attempt: USSR / [Mars, 1M no. 1] / 10 October 1960

First successful mission to Mars: USA / Mariner IV / Launched 15 July 1965

First spacecraft to orbit Mars: USA / Mariner 9 / 14 November 1971

First spacecraft to impact Mars: USSR / Mars 2 / 27 November 1971

First successful soft-landing on the Martian surface: USA / Viking 1 / 20 July 1976

First wheeled vehicle on Mars: USA / Sojourner / 5 July 1997

First detection of a "marsquake" on Mars: USA / InSight / 6 April 2019

Jupiter

First spacecraft to fly by Jupiter: USA / Pioneer 10 / 4 December 1973

First atmospheric entry into Jupiter: USA / Galileo Probe / 7 December 1995

First spacecraft to orbit Jupiter: USA / Galileo Orbiter / 8 December 1995

First spacecraft to carry out detailed investigations of Jupiter’s interior: USA / Juno / 2016–present

Saturn

First spacecraft to fly by Saturn: USA / Pioneer 11 / 1 September 1979

First spacecraft to orbit Saturn: USA / Cassini / 1 July 2004

First spacecraft to soft-land on Titan: ESA / Huygens / 14 January 2005

Uranus

First spacecraft to fly by Uranus: USA / Voyager 2 / 24 January 1986

Neptune

First spacecraft to fly by Neptune: USA / Voyager 2 / 25 August 1989

Pluto

First spacecraft to fly by Pluto: USA / New Horizons / 14 July 2015

Comets

First spacecraft to fly past a comet: USA / ISEE-3 / 11 September 1985 (Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner)

First spacecraft to enter the coma of a comet: USA / Deep Space 1 / 22 September 2001 (Comet 19P/Borrelly)

First spacecraft to impact a comet: USA / Deep Impact / 4 July 2005 (Comet 9P/Tempel)

First spacecraft to return material from a comet: USA / Stardust / Returned 15 January 2006 (Comet 81P/Wild)

First spacecraft to orbit a cometary nucleus: ESA / Rosetta / 10 September 2014 (Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko)

First spacecraft to land on a comet: ESA / Philae / 12 November 2014 (Comet 67P/Cburyumov-Gerasimenko)

Dwarf Planets

First spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet: USA / Dawn / March 7, 2015 (1 Ceres)

Asteroids

First spacecraft to fly past an asteroid: USA / Galileo / 26 October 1991 (951 Gaspra)

First spacecraft to orbit an asteroid: USA / NEAR Shoemaker / 14 February 2000 (433 Eros)

First spacecraft to land on an asteroid: USA / NEAR Shoemaker / 13 February 2001 (433 Eros)

First spacecraft to return material from an asteroid: Japan / Hayabusa / 13 June 2010 (25143 Hideo Itokawa)

First spacecraft to orbit an asteroid in the main asteroid belt: USA / Dawn / 16 July 2011 (4 Vesta)

Lagrange Points

First spacecraft to orbit a libration point (L1 [Sun–Earth]): USA / ISEE-3 / 20 November 1978

First spacecraft to orbit libration point L2 (Sun–Earth): USA / WMAP / 1 October 2001

First spacecraft to orbit libration point L2 (Earth–Moon): USA / ARTEMIS P1 / 25 August 2010

First spacecraft to orbit libration point L1 (Earth–Moon): USA / ARTEMIS P2 / 22 October 2010

Source

Siddiqi, Asif A. Beyond Earth: A Chronicle of Deep Space Exploration, 1958-2016. NASA History Program Office, 2018.

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