To boldly surf: the new destinations for armchair astronauts

Watch live video from Mars, hang out with space-station crew, and marvel at Hubble's latest images.
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The Independent Online

Track live missions

The internet is revolutionising space exploration, bringing new sights and discoveries to anyone who cares to look just as quickly as to the scientists involved. In a few days, Opportunity, one of the two rovers that have spent the past three-and-a-half years crawling over Mars, will begin its most hazardous mission yet – the decent into the 800m-wide Victoria crater, from which it may not return. It has spent the past nine months skirting around the rim of the crater, looking for a safe way in. Now, scientists think they have found it: a rock-paved slope called Duck Bay. The deeper the rover goes into Victoria, the older the rocks and the longer the history of the Red Planet it will uncover. Day by day, the website will show images from the rover as it heads down.

At the moment, there are three astronauts living and working on board the International Space Station. As well as conducting scientific experiments and keeping the station in working order, they are preparing for a spacewalk on 23 July and the arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour on 9 August, which will be bringing the station's central spine. Watch live video and listen to live audio of the mission.

For the past three years, the Cassini probe has been orbiting Saturn, sending back some of the most spectacular pictures ever from space, showing its intricate ring system from all angles with bright, icy moons set against the blackness of space. All Cassini's images are here; not only new ones as they come in, but an extensive archive that will grow for as long as Cassini lasts – which could be several more years.

On the web, you can monitor the locations and latest images (or even video) coming from the spacecraft that are scattered throughout our solar system. This site provides portals to many of them, as well as links to past and future missions. For example, there is a spectacular video commemorating 10 years since the Pathfinder probe landed on Mars, the first landing on the planet for 21 years. There are also postcards from the edge of the solar system, in the form of a trickle of data from a remote region of space through which the Voyager spacecraft are traversing. Voyager 1, which is more than 15 billion kilometres away, is the most distant man-made object in space. It's too far away to send images, but this site monitors its health; soon it will leave the Sun's influence altogether and enter the great unknown that is interstellar space.

This is a website that shows the real-time position of the International Space Station plotted on the globe of the Earth. Other satellites can be selected, such as the space shuttle when it is in space, or the Hubble Space Telescope. There is something mesmerising about watching these satellites speed over the earth. It's especially exciting when the space shuttle approaches the Space Station before docking.

Lead a virtual voyage

This "solar system simulator" enables you to see computer simulations of what the solar system looks like from any planet or probe.

With Google Mars, you can take a guided tour of the planet's plains, volcanoes and canyons. While you're at it, stop at 41 deg N, 9.6 deg W and have a look at a shattered mountain hailed as "the Face of Mars".

Not all satellites look outward – some look down at the Earth. This site posts new photos of the Earth from Pole to Pole.

Google Moon takes you alongside the moon and the best place to start your explorations are the six sites where the Apollo moonlandings took place between 1969–72.

This Nasa website combines images from several satellites, then interweaves them, using 3D rendering technology that allows you to zoom in from orbit to any spot on Earth, fly over the Himalayas or zoom down the Great Rift Valley in Africa.

Nasa expects that it will be able to land a crew on Mars by 2030. This website is dedicated to the idea that such a feat will be possible by 2015. Log on and you can take part in the design of a Mars habitat and see if people could live in it on the planet's surface for many months at a time.

Feast your eyes

For 17 years, Hubble has been exploring the heavens. On this site you can track the telescope's daily output, such as the stellar fireworks in galaxy NGC 4449, as well as images from the past, such as the Hubble Deep Field.

View an image from the world of astronomy and spaceflight every day, plus an explanation. They are usually the latest from space probes and telescopes both professional and amateur. Peer into the Rosette Nebula, watch a comet, see moonrise over a desert landscape or view a collision of galaxies.

This website lets you scrutinise the Sun's bubbling surface 24 hours a day, see sunspots come and go and witness explosions in its atmosphere as recorded by satellites.

This site has everything you could want to know about the first landing, including audio and video files to download. Relive the small step – mankind's greatest leap. Listen to the tense first landing. Watch the last takeoff as we left the moon 35 years ago.

A survey of our solar system, this site has lots of useful links for those who want to delve deeply in their study of its disparate worlds.