NASA Planetary Science

NASA’s planetary science program explores the objects in our solar system to better understand its history and the distribution of life within.

A spacecraft looks down on a soft gold-colored Saturn surrounded by its rings.

Advancing Knowledge of Other Worlds

For decades, NASA’s planetary science program has advanced scientific understanding of our solar system in extraordinary ways, pushing the limits of spacecraft and robotic engineering design and operation.

NASA spacecraft have visited every planet and a variety of small bodies, and current and upcoming missions will bring back samples from exciting destinations, allowing detailed study and analysis back on Earth.

Using recommendations from the National Academies' Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032 as our guide, NASA planetary science missions and research inform us about our solar system's origin and evolution, which will enable the expansion of humanity beyond Earth.

Jupiter is in the upper right corner with moon Io to the bottom left.
Just hours before NASA's Juno mission completed its 53rd close flyby of Jupiter on July 31, 2023, the spacecraft sped past the planet's volcanic moon Io and captured this dramatic view of both bodies in the same frame.

Planetary Science Happenings

The back of a green transport aircraft is open like a giant duck's bill, and the shipping container hold Europa Clipper can be seen sitting inside. A ramp extends from the back of the plane. Workers are giving hand signals as they guide the shipping container off the plane.

How Do You Deliver a 7,000-Pound Spacecraft? (video)

How was NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft packed and shipped from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California to Kennedy Space Center in Florida? The mission’s lead engineer Kobie Boykins explains how the team made sure the 7,000-pound spacecraft would be safe while it traveled.

The Perseverance Rover is parked among the tracks it made in the soil of Mars.

NASA’s Perseverance Fords an Ancient River to Reach Science Target

After detouring through a dune field to avoid wheel-rattling boulders, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover reached its latest area of scientific interest. The route change shortened the estimated drive time by several weeks and gave the science team an opportunity to find exciting geologic features in an ancient river channel.

Artist rendering of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LRO, above the moon.

15 Years Ago: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Begins Moon Mapping Mission

The primary mission of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was to image the entire Moon’s surface to create a 3-D map to aid in the planning of future robotic and crewed missions, and to map the polar regions and search for the presence of water ice. 

An image of asteroid Dinkinesh, a pair of grey asteroids with a slightly jagged surface, taken from the Lucy spacecraft.

NASA Lucy Images Reveal Asteroid Dinkinesh to be Surprisingly Complex

Images from the flyby of asteroid Dinkinesh and its satellite, Selam, by NASA's Lucy spacecraft show a complicated structure, revealing the bodies' significant internal strength and complex, dynamic history.

Planetary Science Missions

NASA’s robotic explorers gather data to help scientists understand how the planets formed, what triggered different evolutionary paths among planets, what processes have occurred and are active, and how Earth among the planets became habitable.

In searching for evidence of life beyond Earth, scientists use these data to map zones of habitability, studying the chemistry of unfamiliar worlds, and unveiling the processes that lead to conditions necessary for life. With this knowledge, NASA is enabling safe and effective human missions to destinations beyond low Earth orbit.

Blue spiral graphic against space background showing planetary science mission icons
NASA Planetary Science Division missions. (January 2024)

NASA missions continue to explore from the innermost planet, Mercury, to the outer reaches of the solar system, where Pluto orbits among many Kuiper Belt Objects. We have orbited and traversed the surface of Mars, finding evidence of liquid water and ancient habitable environments.

Closer to home, the Planetary Science Division uses Earth-orbiting telescopes and ground-based sensors in coordination with other organizations, including the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Air Force. These telescopes and sensors are used to survey space to detect, track, catalog, and characterize near-Earth objects (NEOs), which may pose hazards to Earth or provide destinations and resources for future exploration.

A robotic arm laden with science instruments extends toward a rocky outcrop on Mars.
NASA’s Perseverance rover puts its robotic arm to work around a rocky outcrop called “Skinner Ridge” in Mars’ Jezero Crater.
An illustration shows a spacecraft in silhouette above an icy moon's surface with reddish fractures. Beyond the moon's horizon, the planet Jupiter sits in the distance.
Illustration of NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft above Jupiter's ocean moon Europa. The spacecraft will use its powerful suite of science instruments to determine if the moon has the ingredients to support life as we know it – that is, "Is Europa habitable?"
Falcon heavy rocket carrying Psyche spacecraft emits fire and smoke as it lifts off
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with the Psyche spacecraft onboard is launched from Launch Complex 39A, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Psyche spacecraft will travel to a metal-rich asteroid by the same name orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter to study it’s composition. The spacecraft also carries the agency’s Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration, which will test laser communications beyond the Moon.
NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Discover more

A full globe view of Mars

Exploring our solar system's inner, rocky worlds as NASA develops new missions to extend human presence beyond Earth.

A deep blue planet with wispy white clouds moving across its face.

Unlocking the secrets of distant worlds to understand more about the formation of our solar system.

Revealing the foundational materials of our solar system with asteroids, comets, meteors, and objects in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud.

Looking for the origins of life on this planet and signs that it may exist elsewhere in the universe.

illustration of hikers going up a rocky ledge to the left with solar system planets represented large in an arc across the sky

Planetary science resources and references for new and experienced researchers.

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