What is the greatest man-made spacecraft of all time?
The first and only man-made object to travel into interstellar space. Voyager 1 was launched at the Cape Canaveral Air Space Command on September, 5th, 1977. That was over 37 years ago. Imagine what a computer looked like in the 1970’s, now imagine launching that computer, along with a wealth of other highly sensitive 70’s-era electronic instruments into space. Now stop imagining, accept that this really happened, accept that it’s still fully functional, and accept the reality that it just left our solar system this past September. This bad-boy is over 12 billion miles away from Earth right now. If there is a fleet of alien spacecraft hiding behind those asteroids in the Kuiper Belt preparing to destroy the human race . . . the Voyager 1 is our best hope at catching an early glimpse of the armada and sounding the global alarm. No other spacecraft can match the epic journey of Voyager 1, and the potential for our human reach to extend beyond our solar system is one of the most exciting developments in the history of our species.
Date Launched: September 5, 1977 | Space Program: NASA - Voyager | Mission duration: 37 years, 1 month, 23 days, and counting | Cost: $250 mm
Type: Space probe | Weight: 1,592 lb | Dimensions: 5.5 ft x 12 ft x 8 ft | Location: The interstellar medium, 129.18 AU from Earth | Maximum distance from Earth: 12 billion miles and counting
International Space Station
The largest spacecraft ever built by man. The International Space Station is without a doubt one of the most important and impressive engineering feats in history. Housing the most remote research laboratory and living facilities in our solar system, the ISS has been continuously occupied by astronauts and cosmonauts for nearly 14 consecutive years. The lab has produced countless scientific breakthroughs across a huge range of disciplines; including: astronomy, biology, human biology, meteorology, and physics. The project came to fruition thanks to the cooperation of five separate space agencies, and the resources of over 20 different nations; it remains the most ambitious cooperative space project in history. At a cost of over $150 billion, it is also believed to be the most expensive single item ever constructed. The United States has shouldered nearly half the cost, but we think it’s a worthy investment for one of the most important space projects in human history.
Date Launched: November, 20, 1998 | Space Program: NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA | Mission duration: 16 years and counting | Cost: $150 B
Type: Space Station | Weight: 990,000 lb | Dimensions: 239 ft x 356 ft x 66 ft | Location: Low Earth Orbit | Maximum distance from Earth: 262 Miles
Hubble Space Telescope
Produced the most detailed visible light images ever seen by humans eyes. The Hubble Space Telescope is one of the great heroes of the cosmos. It was the ultimate rock-star spacecraft of the 1990s, offering stunningly beautiful images of the universe, the likes of which we’d never seen before. Never before in history had the general public been offered such unlimited access to the photographs and data produced by a NASA spacecraft, and the ability to view such gorgeous cosmic scenery without the use of a home telescope made deep space more accessible than ever before. And while raising the public consciousness was certainly a worthy endeavor, it was Hubble’s discoveries about the origin of the universe that will likely stand as the mission’s most lasting legacy. Hubble was able to prove the expansion rate of the universe to a level of precision that was 400% better than previous methods. It significantly enhanced what we know about the age of our universe, and the prospects for its future. Only time will tell just how important these discoveries were, but it’s safe to say that the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the greatest man-made spacecraft of all time.
Date Launched: April 24, 1990 | Space Program: NASA / ESA / STScl | Mission duration: 24 years, 6 months, 4 days, and counting | Cost: $2.5 B
Type: Space Telescope | Weight: 24,490 lb | Dimensions: 7.9 ft diameter x 189 ft focal length | Location: Low Earth Orbit | Maximum distance from Earth: 355 miles
Space Shuttle Discovery
Logged more flight time than any spacecraft in history. Discovery was the alpha dog of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet. The first ever spacecraft designed for re-use, the space shuttle is basically the city bus of space. Discovery successfully completed 39 missions during its 28 year career, logging over 148 million flight miles. Among numerous career highlights, Discovery launched the Hubble telescope, the Ulysses probe, and a 77 year old John Glenn into space (making him the oldest person ever to do so). The Space Shuttle program is easily one of the most successful programs in the history of NASA, and Discovery is the crown jewel among a group of 3 existing NASA shuttles (The Challenger and Columbia were both destroyed in tragic accidents). The spacecraft was eventually decommissioned and given to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. It is currently on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. As one of the most iconic and prolific workhorses in the history of NASA, The Space Shuttle Discovery must be considered among the greatest spacecraft of all time.
Date Launched: Used on 39 different missions from 1984 to 2011 | Space Program: NASA | Mission duration: 27 years | Cost: $1.5 B
Type: Re-usable orbiter | Weight: 171,000 lbs | Dimensions: 122 ft length x 78 ft wingspan x 56.5 ft height | Location: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia | Maximum distance from Earth: 330 miles
The first spacecraft to enter the asteroid belt. Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft ever launched with a mission objective centered on the planet Jupiter. Launched by NASA in the spring of 1972, this 571 pound space probe was equipped with a number of high-tech instruments. It was designed to study the environment around Jupiter as well as the largely mysterious asteroid belt; a 100+ million mile band of asteroids and minor planets that the craft had to navigate on the way to the giant red planet. Pioneer 10 was NASA’s first attempt to navigate the perilous main belt. We gained critical new insight into the properties of both the Asteroid Belt and Jupiter on this mission, and the successful voyage so far into space ushered in a cavalcade of new NASA missions to reaches far beyond Jupiter. Radio contact was lost with Pioneer 10 in January of 2003, the probe was over 7 billion miles from Earth at the time. Pioneer is a fitting name for this legendary deep-space explorer.
Date Launched: March 3, 1972 | Space Program: NASA - Pioneer | Mission duration: 30 years, 10 months, 22 days | Cost: $150 mm
Type: Space probe | Weight: 571 lb | Dimensions: 1.1 ft x 2.5 ft x 1.5 ft | Location: Abandoned in deep space at 80 AU | Maximum distance from Earth: 7.46 billion miles
Traveled a greater distance than any space rover in history. The Opportunity Rover is like the Energizer Bunny of the spacecraft world. The 6-wheeled Mars exploration vehicle was designed for a mission duration of just 90 Martian days or Sols (equivalent to around 92 days on Earth). 10 years and 187 days later and this little guy is still motoring across the eerie red planet. That’s over 40 times longer than originally planned, and it has allowed the rover to perform the most in-depth study of the surface of Mars in human history. The rover has ID’d hundreds of rocks and soils while surviving a number of violent dust storms. It has now crawled over 25 miles across the rocky, unexplored surface of Mars, and it has returned 186,246 pictures. As a shining example of the incredible endurance of NASA-launched spacecraft, the Mars Opportunity rover must be included in any conversation of all time greats.
Date Launched: July 7, 2003 | Space Program: – Mars Exploration Mission | Mission duration: 3930 days, and counting | Cost: $400 mm
Type: Mars Exploration Rover | Weight: 408 lb | Dimensions: 4.9 ft high x 7.5 ft wide x 5.2 ft long | Location: Exploring the surface of Mars | Maximum distance from Earth: 33.9 million miles
The first man-made spacecraft to enter Saturn’s orbit. The Cassini-Huygens Saturn Orbiter and Titan Lander don’t get nearly the kind of fanfare as some of the other craft on our list, but they have a list of accomplishments that would rival any spaceship we’ve ever launched. It is a career of countless superlatives: first to enter Saturn’s orbit, first spacecraft to reach the outer solar system, first discovery of 3 new moons near Saturn, first discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan, witness to the Great Storm of 2010 (the largest storm ever seen by humans), and finally the discovery of an underground ocean on the moon Enceladus. It is that final achievement that shines above the rest. The underground ocean of Enceladus has the highest potential for extraterrestrial life of any space environment we’ve ever explored. Cassini-Huygens is deserving of recognition far beyond the one it gets today, and The GOAT Series is happy to beat the drum on behalf of this legendary spacecraft.
Date Launched: October 15, 1997 | Space Program: NASA / ESA / ASI | Mission duration: 17 years, 3 months, 28 days and counting | Cost: $3.25 B
Type: Orbiter + Lander | Weight: Orbiter 4,740 lb + Lander 770 lb = 5,510 lb | Dimensions: 22 ft high x 13 ft wide | Location: Cassini is orbiting Saturn, Huygens is abandoned on the moon Titan | Maximum distance from Earth: 934 million miles
The highest velocity man-made object in history. New Horizons is a space probe that was launched by NASA in 2006. The probe’s target is Pluto, that plucky planetary has-been that we all know and only some of us love. The probe is scheduled for arrival at the icy dwarf planet in July of 2015, where it will perform the most comprehensive analysis of Pluto of any NASA mission. It all seems pretty standard until you consider the fact that Pluto is over 4 billion miles away from Earth. Getting the half-ton hunk of steel out that far was no easy task; the probe had to be launched directly into an Earth-and-solar escape trajectory, requiring speeds over 36,000 miles per hour! Strapped atop a massive Atlas V rocket, on January 19th, 2006 the probe was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Space Command in Florida; it broke the world-record for speed in the process. The fact that New Horizons’ journey has only just begun makes it all the more intriguing, and we think it’s a worthy contender for the title of greatest man-made spacecraft of all time.
Date Launched: January 19, 2006 | Space Program: NASA – New Frontiers | Cost: $650 mm | Mission duration: 9.5 years (8 years, 9 months elapsed)
Type: Space probe | Weight: 1,054 lb | Dimensions: 2.25 ft x 6.9 ft x 9 ft | Location: 30.60 AU from Earth, near Pluto | Maximum distance from Earth: 2.8 Billion miles and counting
The first spacecraft to take man to the Moon. The Moon landing is one of the most seminal moments in American history. It forever changed our beliefs about the limits of human ingenuity. The three man crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins (the poor SOB who had to wait in the ship) will be forever hailed as heroes of space exploration. Apollo 11 was launched on July 16th, 1969. Just 5 days later Armstrong took his world famous “One Small Step” and placed his boot upon the dusty surface of the Moon. Aldrin soon joined him and the pair would spend nearly two and a half hours bouncing around the alien landscape. The voyage yielded the first ever rock samples harvested outside of Earth. The samples would prove to be three new minerals: armalcolite, tranquillityite, and pyroxferroite; each named after a member of the crew. Attracting conspiracy theorists in abundance, the Apollo 11 mission is not short on haters, but we prefer to applaud this miraculous feat. The spacecraft that brought those men to the Moon is without question one of the greatest spacecraft of all time.
Date Launched: July 16, 1969 | Space Program: Apollo | Mission Duration: 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds | Cost: $7.95 B
Type: Command/Service Module + Lunar Module | Weight: Command/Service Module 63,495 lb + Lunar Module 33,500 lb = 96,995 lb | Dimensions: Command Module 9 ft x 14 ft x 13.3 ft, Lunar Module 17.9 ft x 14 ft x 13.3 ft | Location: Landed on Earth’s Moon, the Command Module is now displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, the Lunar Module was abandoned in low orbit above the Moon | Maximum distance from Earth: 239,070 miles
The first human spacecraft to land on Mars. Viking 1 was always ahead of its time. Launched in 1975, 28 years before the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, the Viking 1 accomplished the second longest Mars surface mission ever, a full 2,307 days of operation (longer than Spirit which got stuck in soft soil). Equipped with both an orbiter and a lunar lander component, the spacecraft returned the first ever color photographs on the surface of Mars. It gave startling clarity to a landscape about which we had only speculation up to that point. The lander operated in isolation, taking photographs and analyzing the soil for over 6 years, before a terminal software update caused some of the control programs to be erased (tough to jiggle the wires when the thing is 33.9 million miles away!). As a pre-cursor to the exciting Mars missions of today, the Viking 1 is clearly among the greatest spacecraft of all time.
Date Launched: August 20, 1975 | Space Program: NASA - Viking | Mission duration: 1,824 days | Cost: $1 B
Type (Weight): Orbiter (1984 lb) + Lander (1323 lb) | Weight: 571 lb | Dimensions: 8 ft wide x 1.5 ft tall x 4.5 ft long | Location: Abandoned in deep space | Maximum distance from Earth: 33.9 million miles
The first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter. Galileo was an un-manned spacecraft tasked with a mission to study Jupiter and a number of its moons. The craft was launched by NASA in October of 1989. 6 years later, in 1995, Galileo arrived at Jupiter, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit the planet. It performed some of the most comprehensive analysis of Jupiter to date, including the first probe contact and atmospheric analysis of the gas-covered giant. But perhaps Galileo’s greatest discovery occurred on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. The evidence gathered by Galileo now strongly suggests the existence of liquid water underneath the frozen surface of Europa, in addition to potential clay-like minerals throughout the icy crust. It was one of the most compelling examples of potential organic material we’ve ever found outside of our own atmosphere and it left those searching for extraterrestrial life with a vital new clue. The mission was ended in 2003 when NASA sent the orbiter into Jupiter’s atmosphere at a speed of 30 miles per second, effectively vaporizing it, but Galileo’s contributions to science will live on forever.
Date Launched: October 18, 1989 | Space Program: NASA - Galileo | Mission duration: 7.75 years| Cost: $1.4 B
Type Orbiter + Probe | Weight: 5250 lb (Orbiter) + 747 lb (Probe) = 5,997 lb | Dimensions: 17 ft x 36 ft x 12 ft | Location: Crashed on surface of Jupiter | Maximum distance from Earth: 490 million miles
Hosted the first human spaceflight in history. Sometimes being first comes with its privileges, and in the case of the Soviet space program’s Vostok 1 the world was privileged to witness a mission and a space hero that will live in space travel lore for all eternity. The space race between the US and Russia was in full effect by the early 60’s and Russia pushed the limits of science in their quest to beat the Americans to the cosmos. 27 year old Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the lucky soul chosen to hop aboard the 10,000 pound hunk of steel and launch himself into orbit. The Vostok 1 looks more like an over-sized snow globe than a spaceship, but looks be damned, the launch was green lit for April 12th, 1961 at 6:07 AM. Just 10 minutes later, The Vostok 1 was officially in orbit and Yuri Gagarin had changed human history forever. And luckily for Yuri, his trip home went as well as the trip up; although he did experience G forces of 8, and landed over 5,000 miles off course in the African nation of Angola, but he was alive. The crumpled spherical capsule of the Vostok 1 is still on display at the RKK Energiya museum near Moscow, and although it looks like an ancient artifact today, one can’t help but appreciate the prestige of one of the greatest spacecraft ever made.
Date Launched: April 12, 1961 | Space Program: Soviet space program | Mission duration: 1 hour, 48 minutes | Cost: $2-4 million
Type: Space Capsule | Weight: 10,417 lb | Dimensions: 14.4 feet x 7.9 ft | Location: One orbit of earth, the re-entry capsule is now located at the RKK Energiya museum in Korolyov, Russia | Maximum distance from Earth: 203 miles
GOAT Staff Score - Man-Made SpacecraftThe candidates have been assigned a raw score across a range of criteria. The raw scores have been weighted to reflect the impact that each individual criterion has on the 'Final GOAT Score'. -->TURN DEVICE SIDEWAYS TO VIEW ON MOBILE-->
|Scientific Impact (25%)||Pioneering (25%)||Mission Scope (20%)||Distance From Earth (10%)||Mission Duration (10%)||Social Legacy (10%)||Raw Total||Final GOAT Score|
|Hubble Space Telescope||10||5||9||5||9||8||46||775|
|Space Shuttle Discovery||11||1||8||3||10||9||42||680|