Taken from the NASA/JPL information summary "Our Solar System at a Glance".
Science flourished during the European Renaissance. Fundamental physical laws governing planetary motion were discovered, and the orbits of the planets around the Sun were calculated. In the 17th century, astronomers pointed a new device called the telescope at the heavens and made startling discoveries.
But the years since 1959 have amounted to a golden age of solar system exploration. Advancements in rocketry after World War II enabled our machines to break the grip of Earth's gravity and travel to the Moon and to other planets.
The United States has sent automated spacecraft, then human-crewed expeditions, to explore the Moon. Our automated machines have orbited and landed on Venus and Mars, explored the Sun's environment, observed comets, and asteroids, and made close-range surveys while flying past Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
These travelers brought a quantum leap in our knowledge and understanding of the solar system. Through the electronic sight and other "senses" of our automated spacecraft, color and complexion have been given to worlds that for centuries appeared to Earth-bound eyes as fuzzy disks or indistinct points of light. And dozens of previously unknown objects have been discovered.
Future historians will likely view these pioneering flights through the solar system as some of the most remarkable achievements of the 20th century.