Department of Astronomy Center for Radiophysics & Space Research


For as long as there have been people on Earth, we have looked up at the sky and wondered about the Sun, Moon, stars, and occasional dramatic events we saw there. But it is only in the past 50+ years that we developed the technical ability to leave our planet and actually visit other bodies in the universe.

Since the early days of space exploration, Cornell astronomers have played major roles in NASA missions to explore the solar system and distant universe. This strong tradition, going back to Thomas Gold and the Apollo mission to the Moon, and Carl Sagan and the early exploration of Mars by Mariner 9 and Viking, continues today. The Infrared Spectrometer (IRS), a major instrument on the Infrared Telescope Facility (Spitzer Infrared Telescope Facility), was developed by a group at Cornell. The focal point for the analysis of data being collected by this instrument is the IRS Data Center located at Cornell. Cornell planetary scientists played big roles in the NEAR mission which culminated in the successful landing on asteroid 433 Eros in 2001, and were responsible for developing the Athena instrument package for the Mars Exploration Rovers: Spirit and Opportunity. Under Cornell leadership the rovers collected a wealth of observational data on the ancient climate of the planet.

Current Missions involving Cornell Researchers are:

  • Stardust-NExT
  • Cassini
  • Mars Exploration Rovers
  • Herschel
  • Juno


Stardust-NExT Thumb


The Stardust-NExT mission provided NASA with the unique opportunity to study two entirely different comets with the same instrument. By doing this, scientists were able to more accurately compare its existing data set.
Cassini Thumb


Cassini–Huygens is a joint NASA/ESA/ASI spacecraft mission studying the planet Saturn and its many natural satellites since 2004. Launched in 1997 after nearly two decades of gestation, it includes a Saturn orbiter and an atmospheric probe/lander for the moon Titan, although it has also returned data on a wide variety of other things including the Heliosphere, Jupiter, and relativity tests. The Titan probe, Huygens, entered and landed on the moon in 2005. The current end of mission plan is a 2017 Saturn impact.
Mars Exploration Rovers - MER Thumb

Mars Exploration Rovers - MER

NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars.
Herschel Thumb


Herschel is a 3.5m aperture, space-borne observatory passively cooled to 80K that will orbit the earth-sun L2 point and have imaging and spectroscopic capabilities in the wavelength range from 60 to 670 µ. Its primary mission will be to study the formation of galaxies, investigate the creation of stars, and examine the chemistry of the universe.
Juno:  Mission to Jupiter Thumb

Juno: Mission to Jupiter

Juno will improve our understanding of the solar system’s beginnings by revealing the origin and evolution of Jupiter.