On October 6, 1990, the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched a robotic spacecraft called Ulysses, named after the Latin translation of Homer's legendary hero Odysseus. Its joint NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) mission: to chart the unknown regions of space above the poles of the Sun. NASA has called it an "epic science adventure."
Indeed, its name recalls Dante's description of Ulysses' desire to explore the world "beyond the Sun" in The Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy.
According to a NASA statement, Ulysses' final command will be sent from Earth on June 29, its 18-year mission coming to an end. After shut-off, Ulysses will continue to orbit the Sun.
"Among many other ground-breaking results, the hugely successful mission showed that the Sun's magnetic field is carried into the Solar System in a more complicated manner than previously believed," according to a ScienceDaily.com article. "Particles expelled by the Sun from low latitudes can climb up to high latitudes and vice versa, even unexpectedly finding their way down to planets."
"Whenever any of us look up in the years to come, Ulysses will be there, silently orbiting our star, which it studied so successfully during its long and active life," said Richard Marsden, ESA's Ulysses Project Scientist and Mission Manager.
"O my brothers, who have reached the west, through a thousand dangers, do not deny the brief vigil, your senses have left to them, experience of the unpopulated world beyond the Sun," Ulysses said in Dante's Inferno.
"Consider your origin: You were not made to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge."
- See the Ulysses image gallery
- Sign a petition to add the option for US taxpayers to contribute to NASA on the IRS 1040 tax form
- See what's in the sky tonight
- Download Google Earth 5.0, which has an interactive map of the entire surface of Mars
- Buy a beginner telescope from the Discovery Channel store ($99.00)
- It's the End of the World As We Know It (June 12, 2009)
- Getting Closer to the Beginning of Time (May 16, 2009)
- Sizing Up the "King of the World" (March 31, 2009)