The European Space Agency (ESA), was formed in 1975 and now consists of 15 European member states, with Canada as a partner, and exists in order to explore and utilise space for peaceful purposes on behalf of Europe. It employs 40,000 people directly, 250,000 indirectly, and has facilities all over Europe, with the Headquarters located in Paris. It is similar to NASA in America, although there are some crucial differences, most notably that it has much fewer funds at its disposal, and much more bureaucracy, since everything it does is the result of compromise between the fifteen nations involved. This results in many of the European members maintaining a national space agency as well, usually for smaller, less costly, space missions. The emphasis on 'peaceful purposes' is another obvious difference between ESA and some of the current American policies.

To date, ESA has been remarkably successful. It is involved in almost all the major areas of space technology (such as telecommunications, Earth observation, space science and the International Space Station), and has made groundbreaking and worthwhile contributions to each. These include the Giotto mission, which was the first satellite to take pictures of a comet's nucleus when it flew past Halley's comet in 1986, and then repeated the trick in 1992 with Grigg-Skjellerup.

There have also, of course, been some monumental European mistakes in space. One of the more famous is the failure of Ariane flight 501 (Ariane was actually made by the French space company Arianespace, but the payload of the launcher, the Cluster satellites, belonged to ESA). More recently, the Artemis telecommunications satellite was launched into the wrong orbit, although ESA managed (eventually) to correct this mistake.

There are plenty of missions planned for the near and long-term future, including missions to Mars, the Columbus laboratory for the ISS, and the environmental satellite Envisat, which should greatly improve the data we have on phenomena such as global warming, rising sea levels, deforestation and desertification.

The European Space Agency also has a manned spaceflight programme, which utilises the European Astronaut Corps.

Complete list of all ESA missions, past, present and future

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