10 More Iconic Images From NASA

When humans first set foot on the moon in 1969, it was a watershed event for our species, proving we could leave Earth and visit other worlds. Yet while the moon landing may be the most iconic moment overall for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, there have also been many other historic feats in the decades since.

Here are just a few of these other iconic moments, from the triumphant to the tragic, that have shaped the course of human space exploration since Neil Armstrong first took that giant leap all those years ago.

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Launch of Pioneer 10, 1972

NASA.

First, we took you from the Earth to the moon. Of course, NASA’s rich history did not end with those final lunar steps from Apollo 17. Space exploration continued, carrying manned and unmanned crafts through our solar system. Pioneer 10, pictured here, is now more than 7.5 billion miles from Earth.

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Enterprise takes flight, 1977

NASA.

As NASA grew, a growing need for cargo space forced engineers to come up with larger spacecraft. Design and construction for the space shuttles began in the early 1970s, though the concept was considered much earlier. Here the space shuttle prototype Enterprise flies free of its aircraft carrier during a September 1977 test flight. As NASA reports, "these tests were conducted to verify orbiter aerodynamics and handling characteristics in preparation for orbital flights with the Space Shuttle Columbia.”

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NASA walks in space, 1984

NASA.

When the space shuttles began flying in 1981, the new vehicles created opportunities for more spacewalks during orbit. American Bruce McCandless performed the first untethered spacewalk on Feb. 7, 1984, during a space shuttle mission.

NASA reports, "Astronaut Dale A. Gardner, having just completed the major portion of his second extravehicular activity (EVA) period in three days, holds up a ‘For Sale’ sign referring to the two satellites, Palapa B-2 and Westar 6 that they retrieved from orbit after their Payload Assist Modules (PAM) failed to fire.”

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Final Challenger crew, 1985

NASA.

The space shuttle Challenger was the second orbital to go into space. In the early days of the shuttle program, Challenger was known as the workhorse because it flew more missions than any other shuttle. This came to an end on Jan. 28, 1986, when Challenger exploded one minute and 13 seconds into its 10th mission. All aboard perished in the accident. Pictured here is the Challenger’s flight crew: (Back row from left) Ellison S. Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis and Judy Resnik. (Front row from left) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee and Ron McNair.

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International Space Station, 1998 to present

NASA.

The International Space Station is being assembled in low-orbit through the combined efforts international space programs. “On-orbit” construction began in 1998 and plans are to keep the station in space until 2020. NASA operates the station in collaboration with European Space Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). It is primarily a research facility and is considered a step up from the on-board space laboratory carried by the space shuttles.

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Columbia’s final rollout, 2002

NASA.

The space shuttle Columbia took the fleet’s first flight in 1981. The ship eventually flew 28 flights, spent over 300 days in space, completed 4,808 orbits, and flew 125,204,911 miles in total. It was part of many key events in space history, carrying the first Spacelab, deploying the first commercial satellite, and servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. Columbia broke apart upon re-entry during its 28th mission on Feb. 1, 2003. All seven astronauts on board were killed.

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Space shuttle Atlantis’ last launch, 2010

NASA.

The space shuttle program is slated for mandatory retirement in 2011. As NASA closes the book on this chapter in space, the space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a mission to the International Space Station on May 14, 2010. Reports are that the final reading on Atlantis' odometer after this flight was about the same distance as 505 flights from the Earth to the moon and back.

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Hubble Space Telescope, 1990 to present

NASA.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was first carried into space in 1990. It is one of the largest telescopes in history. It orbits outside Earth’s atmosphere with its back to the Earth, allowing it to take literally stellar photos with little background light. The Hubble has proven a public relations superstar for NASA, as the photos it produces are out of this world. As NASA reports, this Hubble photo shows a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula.

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Mars FIDO rover, 1999

NASA.

The creation of the Mars rovers marks the next phase in NASA’s history, which is dedicated to exploring Mars and beyond. The rovers propel themselves across the surface of the red planet after landing. Their purpose, among other tasks, is to look for evidence of life on Mars and prepare for future missions to the planet. As NASA reports, this photo is of the “Field Integrated Design and Operations (FIDO) rover being used in ongoing NASA field tests to simulate driving conditions on Mars.” It is considered a research prototype for future Mars surface missions planned by NASA.

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Humans on Mars

NASA.

What remains for NASA? Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced the end of the Constellation program, which had been slated to replace the retiring space shuttle as the way to transport humans into space. NASA’s new plan for space flight aims to send astronauts to an asteroid by the year 2025 and then onto Mars.

As NASA describes this vision of a possible future, “two explorers stop to inspect a robotic lander and its small rover in this artist’s concept of a future Mars mission.” It’s a vision that started with the moon, circled the planet by space shuttle, and continues on to a space station, asteroid, Mars and beyond.