As the 50th anniversary rolls around -- Dec. 24 is the date -- NASA notes that its Deep Space Network has proved so important in so many missions over the decades that network team members jokingly use the phrase: "Don't leave Earth without us." Pictured above is a shot from Voyager 1, which discovered active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io.
The network allows space researchers on Earth to keep tabs on spacecraft traveling far, far from home -- NASA calls it "the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world." To commemorate the anniversary, we've compiled this set of images from spacecraft near and far.
Voyager 2 paid a visit to the solar system's farthest planet from the Sun when it swung by Neptune to take a few snapshots between August 16-17, 1989. In putting Neptune in its sights for about two-and-one-half rotations, Voyager 2's trove offers the most complete set of full-disk Neptune images that the spacecraft acquired.
The Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California's Mojave Desert is one of three complexes that comprise NASA's Deep Space Network. The other two are situated near Madrid, Spain, and near Canberra, Australia. The space agency says that all the DSN antennas are steerable, high-gain, parabolic reflector types.
The latest mission to Mars involves the MAVEN spacecraft, which blasted off in November 2013. This photo, from the preparation phase two months earlier, shows engineers at the Kennedy Space Center's MIL-71 facility running compatibility tests to ensure that MAVEN will be able to relay data back through the Deep Space Network.
Preparing for Voyager 2 spacecraft's planned 1989 flyby, a crew in 1970 works on the antenna known as DSS-62 at NASA's Deep Space Network complex near Madrid, Spain. Three antenna complexes were established around the globe so that even as Earth rotated, the spacecraft would always be above the horizon of at least one complex. The other two are located in Canberra, Australia, and Goldstone, Calif.