5 Voyager I and Voyager II
Never forget about Voyager I, launched back in 1977 and by now likely out of our Solar System, is the first manmade object to achieve that feat. This satellite and its sister craft, Voyager II, were only expected to last around five years, and were to make close passes of Jupiter and Saturn. They did that, and then did the same for Neptune and Uranus and dozens of moons, to boot. Today, it is hurtling through interstellar space, and is probably lonely.
Alas, CONTOUR, we hardly knew ye. This mission, the name of which comes from “œComet Nucleus Tour,”sent a satellite due for fly-by passes near the comets Encke, Schwassmann-Wachmann-3, and d’Arrest. We could have learned much about these noble ancient astronauts that date from the formation of our solar system and may have brought both water and life itself to earth, but the damn thing disappeared after launch in 2002.
3 Mars Global Surveyor
Move over Opportunity, the Mars Global Surveyor was orbiting the Red Planet for almost a decade before you got there. This plucky little satellite made twelve orbits around Mars a day, starting in late 1997 and lasting until November of 2006. This mission confirmed the past presence of water and the current presence of a seasonally changing ice cap, greatly adding to our understanding of the geology and climate of the planet.
Known as the GRANAT based in its native Russian (Soviet Russian at the time!), the International Astrophysical Observatory was a massive space telescope launched in December of 1989. As this was not long before the USSR dissolved, the budget and the politics governing this massive, complex satellite got complicated in a hurry. The GRANAT itself cared not about such things, though, and for the next six years followed its “œhighly eccentric”orbit, which took it on an ellipse of over 200,000 KM away from earth to less than 2000 KM away, while studying the center of the galaxy and finding and studying black holes. It was one of the first orbital craft to take on that specific task, and greatly advanced our understanding of black holes.
The GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) mission would have gotten lot more coverage had it been called Operation Moon Smasher. That’s how it ended: with moon smashing. The mission consisted of two satellites orbiting the moon in close synchronization working to create an accurate map or the lunar surface, measuring its gravitational fields and analyzing the interior structure and composition of said celestial satellite. The mission began on the painfully easy to remember date 9/10/11, and ended when both spacecrafts, named Ebb and Flow, completed their scientific work and went kamikaze, smashing into the moon at almost 4,000 miles an hour on 12/17/12.