On Saturday, NASA'a Dawn spacecraft entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta, becoming the first probe ever to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will study Vesta for a year before heading for the dwarf planet Ceres. With previous multi-target missions, such as the Voyager program, considered rapid planetary flybys, Dawn is also set to become the first spacecraft to enter orbit around one extraterrestrial body before continuing under powered flight to a second.
Dawn launched on September 27, 2007, and belongs to NASA's Discovery Program founded in 1992 to develop technologies to enable "faster, better, cheaper" planetary missions. Its study of two large bodies in the asteroid belt is aimed at providing information on the dawn of the solar system - hence its name. Data collected on the Dawn mission will also be crucial for future missions aimed at sending astronauts to an asteroid - something President Obama has directed NASA to do by 2025.