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

1957

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.)

1958

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.

1959

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.

1961

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.

1962

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

1963

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

1965

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

1967

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.

1968

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

1969

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.

1971

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.

1972

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.

1973

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

1975

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

1981

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

1983

June 18
Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space.

1984

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

1986

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

1988

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.

1995

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.

1996

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

1998

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

1999

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

2000

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

2003

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

2011

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

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