Exploration, in terms of activities, is simply the act of venturing into uncharted space and discovering artifacts, abandoned space stations, and objects of that nature. In the wider sense, exploration is the act of making entirely new discoveries: unique structures in space, previously unknown human settlements, and perhaps even new alien species.
An explorer's career can begin upon achieving 300 industry points, purchasing an AutoVector unit, and looking for relatively intact debris from before or during the Outsider War. From there, there is a progression of ever more exotic and distant artifacts and things to explore.
Making entirely new discoveries is something completely different; it requires careful planning, good roleplaying, and contact with the staff, usually invoking Policy 14: Minievents. Each new discovery is something truly unique and requires new designs and new writing from the staff.
If you wish for your character to make unique discoveries, you should first lay the groundwork. Does your character concept describe an explorer, or someone who would be more content with staying nearby and making money? Have you played your character as someone with the curiosity to make new discoveries? If your character has been more of a homebody, you should start by simply exploring with the resources available. Take some trips in the vicinity of local space for the joy of it. Travel to some of the nearby known destinations. Travel straight out for a couple of hundred lightyears, traveling through the night, then come back. None of these things require staff involvement, and by spending some time gradually establishing your character as one with curiosity and a drive to explore, you will have a character more likely to receive serious staff attention in an exploration endeavor. A character who has made a career of sitting in a mining center but who suddenly wants to discover aliens 3,000 light-years away seems far less plausible than a character who has already been exploring at every opportunity who has the same end goal. Remember, Christopher Columbus was on the sea all his life -- he didn't suddenly give up a career as a sedentary banker in Genoa and stumble straight into America.
If your character is an established explorer and has a sensible goal, the next step is to plan. New discoveries aren't made on a day trip -- you must plan to push the limits of your ship. How much battery time does your ship have? How are you going to recharge it? Who is your crew? Do they have the skills you will need for a successful journey? How far do you plan to go? How are you going to navigate? What is your backup plan? If you can answer all of these questions and have a properly prepared ship and crew, you may be ready to make a new unique discovery.
At some point in this process, you should contact the staff about your minievent. Policy 14 applies to events such as these, and the staff are more likely to be interested in your proposal if the following things are true: 1) Your character has been roleplayed well and with consistency. 2) You are including many characters -- a full house aboard, not just the two or three people you normally interact with. 3) You have provided us with a sensible goal for your character. 4) You are not attempting to dictate what you find. For example, your character may wish to make an expedition 2,000 light-years Coreward, which makes perfect sense, and the staff are free to determine what you might find there. If you begin specifying that you want to find an alien race after 1,000 lightyears with unique laser technology that lets you snipe enemy ships from one sector away and so on and so on, then we are more likely to turn the whole thing down. Give us your character's goals and wishes, not the exact plot you wish to happen.
And, finally, follow through. Of the players who have made a complete plan for new exploration, only a minority of those have actually gotten a crew together and left the docking bay. This results in wasted work by everyone.
So, in brief, if your character is a well-roleplayed character with an established curiosity for the unknown, if he or she has sensible goals, and if he or she wishes to maximize inclusion by having a full crew instead of his or her usual tiny circle of friends, then you may wish to ask the staff via the SUPPORT command whether it is a good time for your character to explore and make a new discovery. Note that, because a unique discovery often requires a great deal of work on our part, often on a deadline, it is not something we can do every week. A successful discovery often gets other players thinking about heading out immediately to make discoveries for their own characters, but the truth is, after rushing to complete something unique, we often want a month or three of downtime and working on other projects before we do something like that again. If a major discovery has just been made, take some time to consolidate it -- return to it, explore around it, get to know the area. After some time has passed, it may be time for someone else to make a new discovery.
If you have any questions about these concepts, please use the SUPPORT command to discuss it with the staff.