Earthrise, as seen from the Apollo 16 space craft in 1972. (Credit: NASA)

Timeline of space exploration

  • BY AAP + AG staff |
  • August 27, 2012

Starting in 1957, human (and dog) exploration of space has led to a new understanding of our place in the universe.

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From the moment Sputnik I was a success, dreams that humans would one day walk on the Moon - or even other planets - has become more of a reality with each passing milestone. We look back at the history of space exploration.

Here is a timeline of space exploration


4 October
Sputnik 1 becomes the first human-made object to orbit the Earth and triggers the frenetic 'space race' between the Soviet Union and the USA.

3 November Sputnik 2 carries the dog Laika, who becomes the first living animal to travel into space. (She dies within seven hours of launch.)


31 January
Explorer 1 lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, to become the first US artificial Earth satellite. NASA is founded in October of this year.


2 January
The first human-made object to fly near the Moon, Luna 1 passes within 5995 km of Earth's cratered satellite and eventually orbits the Sun, between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

13 September
Luna 2, carrying Soviet pennants, becomes the first human-made object to "impact" on the Moon. It confirms the finding by Luna 1 that the Moon has no magnetic field.


12 April
Cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin becomes the first man to enter space. Three press releases are prepared one for success, two for failure. Gargarin makes one complete orbit of Earth and returns safely.

5 May
Astronaut Alan Shepard becomes the first American man in space, in a suborbital Project Mercury flight aboard Freedom 7. Later that month, US President John F. Kennedy challenges his nation to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.

May 25
President Kennedy declares the US space objective to put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.


February 20
John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth, completing three orbits.


June 16-19
Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, completes 48 orbits.


March 18
Cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov takes man's first space walk.


January 27
Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee die when a fire sweeps the Apollo I command module during a ground test at Kennedy Space Centre.

April 24
Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov is killed when his Soyuz I spacecraft crashes on return to Earth.


December 21
First manned spacecraft to orbit moon, Apollo 8, comes within 112km of lunar surface.


July 20, 1969
Man walks on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin of Apollo 11 spend 21.5 hours on the moon, 2.5 of those outside the capsule.


June 29
Three cosmonauts, Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev, die during re-entry of their Soyuz 11 spacecraft. A government commission disclosed that the three died 30 minutes before landing because a faulty valve depressurised the spacecraft.


December 7-19
Apollo 17 mission that includes the longest and last stay of man on the moon 74 hours, 59 minutes by astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.


May 14
Skylab I, the first US orbiting laboratory, launches.


July 17-19
US astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts participate in Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, docking together in space for two days.


April 12
Shuttle Columbia becomes first winged spaceship to orbit Earth and return to airport landing.


June 18
Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space.


February 7
Astronaut Bruce McCandless performs man's first untethered spacewalk with a Manned Manoeuvreing Unit off the Challenger space shuttle.


January 28
Challenger shuttle explodes 73 seconds after launch, killing its crew of seven.


November 15
Soviets launch their first space shuttle. The 3-hour, 20-minute flight of the shuttle Buran is unmanned.

December 21
Cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov return to Earth from Soviet space station Mir after man's longest space flight 365 days, 22 hours, 39 minutes.


March 14
Norman Thagard becomes first American to be launched on a Russian rocket. Two days later, he becomes first American to visit the Russian space station Mir

June 29
Atlantis docks with Mir in first shuttle-station hook-up.


September 26
Shannon Lucid returns to Earth after 188-day Mir mission, a US space endurance record and a world record for women.


October 29
John Glenn, now 77, returns to space aboard shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest person ever to fly in space.


May 29
Discovery becomes first shuttle to dock with the international space station, a multinational, permanent, orbiting research laboratory.


November 2
An American and Russian crew begins living aboard the International Space Station.


February 1
Shuttle Columbia breaks apart over Texas, 16 minutes before it was supposed to land in Florida.


July 21
Final space shuttle mission ends when Atlantis arrives at Kennedy Space Centre.

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