Latest Issue

In Gagarin’s footsteps

Probes are being dispatched to explore the solar system, but will people follow them?

By Martin Rees   May 2011

On 17th March, Nasa’s Messenger space probe was injected into orbit around Mercury; it is now beaming back data from only 200km above the planet’s parched and cratered surface. The probe, which has already tripled the number of images of Mercury available, aims to solve questions such as whether water ice lurks at the shadowy poles of Earth’s smallest cousin.

Messenger is the most recent in a series of unmanned spacecraft launched to explore planets, moons, comets and asteroids. In the coming decades, huge numbers of miniaturised probes could be dispersed to explore the solar system more fully.

But will…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect