Right from the launch of world’s first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926, to the moment we found water on the Moon in 2009, this space travel timeline traces the numerous achievements in the world of space exploration that we boast of.
In 1961, the then President of the United States, John F. Kennedy set a goal of human landing on the Moon by the end of that decade―a goal which was achieved on July 21, 1969, when Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon. It was undoubtedly one of the biggest achievements for mankind in the field of space exploration. Basically, the 20th century was the period when we pulled off some unimaginable feats in the realms of space exploration; this timeline highlights these very feats.
Space Travel Over the Years
Basically, space travel is a broad term which encompasses two ideas: spaceflight (i.e., the use of technology to fly a spacecraft into/through the outer space) and human spaceflight (i.e., spaceflight with human crew on board). However, the term is more often used in context of ‘space exploration’, which happens to be one of the two attributes of human spaceflight; the other being space tourism. It is virtually impossible to understand the history of space exploration without taking into consideration the developments in spaceflight.
March 16, 1926: American rocket scientist, Robert H. Goddard successfully launches the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket.
October 3, 1942: Nazi Germany launches the first rocket, which makes it to the Kármán line―the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space at an altitude of 62 miles above the mean sea level.
May 22, 1946: The WAC Corporal becomes the first US designed rocket to reach the altitude of 49 miles, which was then considered the edge of space as per the US definition.
October 10, 1946: The first pictures of the Earth are taken from an altitude of 63 miles.
1947: The first instance of animals (fruit flies) being sent into the space with the intention of studying the effects of space travel on lifeforms.
October 4, 1957: The first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 is launched by the Soviet Union.
November 3, 1957: Soviet space dog, Laika becomes the first dog in space and the first ever animal to orbit the Earth.
July 29, 1958: The US administration establishes the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by passing the National Aeronautics and Space Act.
August 7, 1959: The United States satellite, Explorer 6 takes the first pictures of the Earth from the orbit.
August 19, 1960: The first instance wherein animals (2 dogs, 2 rats, and 40 mice) and plants return alive after orbiting the Earth on Sputnik 5.
April 12, 1961: The first human spaceflight; cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbits the Earth aboard the USSR spacecraft, Vostok 1.
December 14, 1962: The US spacecraft, Mariner 2 pulls off the first flyby by flying past planet Venus. (Closest distance approached: 21,606.94 miles)
June 16, 1963: Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space on board USSR spacecraft, Vostok 6.
March 18, 1965: Soviet/Russian cosmonaut, Alexey Leonov performs the first extra-vehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalk, spending 12 minutes outside the Voskhod 2 spacecraft in the space.
July 14, 1965: The US spacecraft, Mariner 4 pulls off the first Mars flyby going past the planet at a distance of 6,118.02 miles.
December 15, 1965: Gemini 6A and Gemini 7 perform the first orbital rendezvous―an orbital maneuver where two spacecraft arrive at the same orbit and close in on each other.
February 3, 1966: Soviet spacecraft, Luna 9 does the first ever soft landing on the Moon as a part of Soviet’s Luna program.
March 16, 1966: The first orbital rendezvous with docking performed by the US spacecraft, Gemini 8 and Agena target vehicle (ATV).
April 3, 1966: The Soviet robotic spacecraft mission, Luna 10 orbits the Moon, thus becoming the first artificial satellite of any celestial body.
December 21, 1968: Apollo 8 becomes the first human spaceflight to leave the Earth’s orbit, orbit the Moon, and return to the Earth from another celestial body.
July 21, 1969: Man sets foot on the Moon; NASA Astronaut, Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to walk on the Moon followed by Lunar Module Pilot, Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr.
December 15, 1970: Soviet spacecraft, Venera 7 successfully lands on the Venusian surface, thus marking the first ever soft landing on another planet.
April 23, 1971: The first space station, Salyut 1 is launched by the USSR.
June, 1971: The Orion 1 Space Observatory launched by USSR becomes the first ever manned orbital observatory.
November 14, 1971: NASA space orbiter, Mariner 9 becomes the first space orbiter to orbit another planet.
November 27, 1971: The first impact on planet Mars by the Soviet Union (Mars 2).
December 2, 1971: The first instance of soft landing on Mars by the Soviet Union (Mars 3).
July 15, 1972: The robotic space probe launched by NASA, Pioneer 10 becomes the first mission to leave the inner solar system and enter the asteroid belt.
December 3, 1973: The Pioneer 10 becomes the first space mission to pass through the asteroid belt and flyby planet Jupiter, approaching as close as 80,778.25 miles close to its surface.
March 29, 1974: NASA’s robotic space probe, Mariner 10 pulls off the first Mercury flyby, approaching as close as 436.82 miles to the planet’s surface.
July 15, 1975: The United States of America and USSR launch the first ever multi-national manned mission, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
October 20, 1975: USSR unmanned space mission to Venus, Venera 9 orbits the planet. It sends the first pictures of the Venusian surface on October 22, 1975.
July 20, 1976: The Viking Lander, a part of the NASA’s Viking program, sends first pictures of the Martian surface along with some soil samples.
September 1, 1979: The Pioneer 11 robotic space probe launched by NASA, pulls off Saturn flyby. (Closest distance approached 13,048.79 miles.)
March 1, 1982: Venera 13 sends first soil samples along with sound recording from planet Venus.
June 13, 1983: NASA’s Pioneer 10 becomes the first mission to go beyond all the planets of the solar system.
January 24, 1886: The Voyager 2 spacecraft flies by planet Uranus from as close as 50,641.75 miles of the surface of the planet.
January 28, 1986: Challenger space tragedy; Space Shuttle Challenger explodes as a result of system failure shortly after its launch killing all the seven astronauts on board.
August 25, 1989: Voyager 2 completes the Neptune flyby.
February 14, 1990: NASA’s Voyager 1 captures the picture of the entire Solar System, which is referred to as the Family Portrait or Portrait of the Planets.
April 24, 1990: The largest and most versatile space telescope ever developed, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is launched into its planned orbit by Space Shuttle Discovery.
February 8, 1992: The Ulysses robotic space probe―a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), completes a polar orbit around the Sun.
December 7, 1995: The unmanned spacecraft sent by NASA, Galileo completes an orbit of planet Jupiter.
1998: The on-orbit construction of the International Space Station (ISS)―an internationally developed research facility―begins in low Earth orbit.
February 14, 2000: NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker robotic space probe orbits the near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros. (It finally landed on the asteroid on February 12, 2001.)
2003: NASA sends two Rovers: Spirit and Opportunity to planet Mars, as a part of its Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) to explore the surface and geology of the planet.
June 21, 2004: The first manned private spaceflight is completed by suborbital air-launched spaceplane, SpaceShipOne.
July 1, 2004: A collaboration between NASA, ESA, and ASI (Italian space agency), the Cassini-Huygens robotic spacecraft mission orbits planet Saturn.
May 25, 2008: The unmanned US spacecraft, Phoenix lands at the frozen northern plains of Mars as a part of the Mars Scout Program.
March 6, 2009: NASA launches the Kepler Mission―the first space telescope which is programmed to search for Earth-like exoplanets.
October 9, 2009: NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) finds water near Cabeus cater region of the Moon’s south pole.
While the first few decades of space travel history hint at the dominance of large nations like the United States and Soviet Union, several developed and developing nations are expected to join the list within the next decade or so. The moment when man set foot on the Moon in 1969 was no doubt our biggest achievement in the world of space exploration, and going by the rapid progress in the field of technology, the future of space travel looks even more promising. It would be least surprising to see man set foot on Mars for the very first time within the next few decades. In fact, NASA already has its plans of space travel to Mars in place, going by which man is expected to set foot on Mars by as early as 2037.