When the captain visits an alien world, they can review the world by scanning it. Scanning the planet allows the Captain to send down crew to explore the surface to acquire resources, artifacts and make contact with inhabitants. There are over 70 different planet classes and thousands of unique planets. Some contain life while most do not. Planets vary greatly on their conditions such as temperature, toxicity, gravity and wind strength. Not all planets are equally hospitable, most planets the player will be able to explore with little risk but some will have conditions that makes exploring dangerous. Examples of hazards include volcanos, methane geysers, fireballs and lightning. Players can upgrade their landing craft with upgrades such as heat resistant plating to allow them to explore inhospitable worlds. If a landing craft is destroyed, the craft and the crew inside of it perish and need to be replaced, but the player can try again with multiple landers.
The main reason for exploring planets is to collect valuable resources with a lander as these can be sold to Star Control headquarters or to Precursor Starbases. There are many types of resources ranging from chemical compounds to metals, with more rare resources having differing values but they are all converted into Resource Units for interstellar commerce.