It doesn’t take much poking around on this site to know that I like space exploration just a little bit. Historic space exploration and spaceflight events are all over the main menu, which is an ever-changing “today in history” page. For me, science and science fiction go hand-in-hand, and tracing the intersections where the two meet – when we finally observe a phenomenon up-close of which we’ve previously only dreamed, when something on TV inspires a new piece of technology in the real world – is what this site (and, to some extent, its head writer) is all about. So, you thrust a big honkin’ map of the solar system under my nose, with a nearly-complete roll call of every interplanetary space probe any country on Earth has ever launched, and I am there.
This big honkin’ map of the solar system, however, puts up some high bars to entry – a bit unfortunate, considering what a great educational tool it could be. Pop Chart Lab sells unframed, rolled copies of this 36×24 poster for nearly $40 (and that’s before postage is applied); they also sell framed ones for significantly more than that. That’s a really expensive piece of paper.
Both for that price and for legibility, my only real complaint is that the poster really should be bigger than it is – as it is, you’re dealing with a lot of very, very fine print that you have to get up-close to see. For example, let’s look at the sadly under-explored planets of Uranus and Neptune. They’ve been visited by only one spacecraft, #30.
Now go to the bottom of the map and look for spacecraft #30 – which is, of course, Voyager 2.
Maybe that’s a bad example, because having been visited once by the same spacecraft, Uranus and Neptune are almost the least cluttered portion of the map. In the inner solar system, the fine-print detail rapidly stacks up to where a magnifying glass might come in handy.
It’s also, perhaps, a misnomer for me to describe this as a map of the solar system: it’s a map of the explored parts of it only. Rather than showing all 69 known moons of Jupiter and all 62 known moons of Saturn (as of this writing), the Chart of Cosmic Exploration opts only to show the natural satellites that have been visited by spacecraft. Since Cassini has traversed nearly the entirety of the moons of Saturn, a lot of them appear…
…as oppposed to only a handful of Jupiter’s retinue of natural satellites.
No spacecraft or mission is too insignificant to be included here, and that means missions to comets and asteroids, regardless of whether they were launched by NASA, ESA, or JAXA (the Japanese space agency).
For its sheer exhaustiveness and almost-up-to-date-ness (the Juno mission to Jupiter was added just before the poster went to print, but the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu, launched in 2016, is not shown), I can recommend this poster. Space budgets and tumultuous changes-of-administration being what they are, we may be headed into some lean years of space exploration via robot, so it won’t be that out-of-date for a while yet. But the Chart of Cosmic Exploration needed to be either bigger…or a bit more affordable.