Space Science

Space science—science performed from vehicles that travel into Earth's upper atmosphere or beyond—covers a broad range of disciplines, from meteorology and geology, to lunar, solar, and planetary science, to astronomy and astrophysics, to the life sciences.

A relatively young field, space science blossomed in the latter half of the 20th century, so the Museum's collection focuses mainly on that period, and especially on objects flown in the atmosphere or in space. The space science objects on display include vehicles (balloons, sounding rockets, satellites, space probes, orbiters, landers), the scientific instruments they carried, and ground-based instruments or other examples of technology that support space science or illuminate its development, nature, or history.


Mars Pathfinder Lander and Sojourner Rover at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Mars Pathfinder Lander and Sojourner Rover
Mars Pathfinder was the first spacecraft to land on the surface of the Red Planet since the Viking mission in 1976. The artifact is a full-scale engineering prototype for a spacecraft that was launched on December 4, 1996. On reaching Mars on July 4, 1997, the spacecraft entered the planet's thin atmosphere, was slowed by a parachute and then rockets, and then landed by bouncing on inflated airbags. The protective aeroshell then unfolded to provide the three flat platforms, one of which held a rover (Sojourner).

Pathfinder had a TV camera and scientific instruments to gather scientific data on the Martian atmosphere and weather, as well as solar cells to provide power and communications. The lander operated for over 90 days, during which it relayed 2.3 gigabits of data including that gathered by Sojourner. Some of this data suggest the presence of large amounts of water on Mars in the distant past. The spacecraft as well as the prototype were designed and built by JPL for NASA's office of Space Science.

This engineering model was transferred to the Museum by NASA in 1999.

More information: Mars Pathfinder Lander and Sojourner Rover

Spartan 201 Satellite at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Spartan 201 Satellite
This is the original Spartain flight instrument carried into space five times in the Shuttle payload bay and deployed for the duration of each mission into a parallel orbit with Shuttle. The SPARTAN program was created by NASA in the 1980s to replace its suborbital sounding rocket program. The scientific payloads for SPARTAN therefore were of the same order as those formerly carried aloft by Aerobees and other sounding rockets. This retrievable system as presently instrumented houses an ultraviolet coronagraph from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and a white light coronagraph from the Goddard Space Flight Center. These devices use internal and external means of occulting the solar photosphere to reveal the structure of the Sun's faint outer atmosphere. They and other similar instruments studied the solar corona on five separate occasions and played a part in numerous shuttle exercises.

This particular SPARTAN 2101 configuration was reassembled by Swales, Inc., under NASA contract, for display at the Hazy Center in 2003. They reintegrated both the Goddard and SAO coronagraphs.

More information: Spartan 201 Satellite

Vega Solar System Probe Bus and Landing Apparatus at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Vega Solar System Probe Bus and Landing Apparatus
In 1984 the Soviet Union launched the Vega 1 and Vega 2 spacecraft, which flew by Venus, dispatched scientific instruments into its atmosphere, then went on to pass through the tail of Comet Halley and transmit data on it back to Earth. The multinational mission involved scientists and instruments from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, East and West Germany, Hungary, Poland, the United States, and the Soviet Union, and marked a new era of international cooperation for the Soviet space program.

French scientists designed Vega's main Venus experiment, a balloon carrying scientific instruments that was released into the atmosphere to measure cloud activity. Vega also released a Soviet-designed lander to investigate the planet's surface. This bus, for carrying the atmospheric experiment, and the landing apparatus are engineering models donated to the Museum by J. Buckner Hightower and Gregory W. Schnurr and Lavochkin Scientific Production Association.

More information: Vega Solar System Probe Bus and Landing Apparatus