Astronomy - Space Travel

The first animals sent into space were fruit flies aboard a U.S.-launched V-2 rocket on 20 February 1947 from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

Albert II, a rhesus monkey, became the first monkey in space on 14 June 1949, in a U.S.-launched V-2,


On 22 July 1951, the Soviet Union launched the R-1 IIIA-1 flight, carrying the dogs Tsygan  and Dezik  into space, but not into orbit.

The launch of the first human-made object to orbit Earth, the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957 The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit. It was a 58 cm (23 in) diameter polished metal sphere, with four external radio antennae to broadcast radio pulses. It was visible all around the Earth and its radio pulses were detectable.

On 3 November 1957, the second-ever orbiting spacecraft carried the first animal into orbit, the dog Laika, launched aboard the Soviet Sputnik 2 spacecraft (nicknamed 'Muttnik' in the West).

The first human spaceflight was launched by the Soviet Union on 12 April 1961 as a part of the Vostok program, with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard.

On a flight lasting 108 minutes he became the first human being to leave the confines of the Earth's atmosphere.

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 spacecraft and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He was launched by a Redstone rocket.

Following this success, President John F. Kennedy announced on May 25, 1961, the dramatic and ambitious goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

This was the beginning of the Apollo program.

The Soviet manned space programme continued and on August 6, 1961, German Titov completed over 17 orbits in Vostok 2, before returning to Earth safely at the beginning of the 18th orbit.

The first American to orbit the Earth was John Glenn who made a total of 3 orbits in Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. Interestingly, he became the oldest person to fly in space, when at age 77, he flew on Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-95) on October 29, 1998.

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is the first woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. She completed 48 orbits of the Earth in her three days in space.

Another milestone in space exploration was established when Alexei Leonov became the first person to leave the spacecraft in a specialized spacesuit to conduct a 12 minute "spacewalk".

In December 1968 the crew of Apollo 8 orbited the Moon and became the first humans to see its far side and Earthrise with their own eyes.

Apollo 11 finally achieved the program goal. Six hours after landing at 20:17:39 UTC on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took the “small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” off the Lunar Module, named Eagle, onto the surface of the Moon.

NASA's space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981 (exactly 20 years to the day after Gagarin’s flight!) and continued to set high marks of achievement and endurance.

Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station.

The first space station was Salyut 1, launched by the Soviet Union April 19, 1971. Like all the early space stations, it was "monolithic", intended to be constructed and launched in one piece, and then manned by a crew later.

Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 were built with two docking ports, which allowed a crew to man the station continually through crew exchange during visits of Soyuz spacecraft.

Skylab was the United States' first space station. It was visited by crews three times between 1973 and 1974.

Unlike previous stations, the Soviet space station Mir had a modular design. A core unit was launched, and additional modules, generally with a specific role, were added later.

The core module of the International Space Station was launched in 1998 and additional modules were brought to the station by the Space Shuttle.

On November 2 2000, the first crew, Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, arrived on board and the station has been manned continuously ever since.

The cost and risk of manned space flight has been high. The first confirmed in-flight fatality in the history of spaceflight occurred on April 24, 1967. Colonel Vladimir Komarov was killed when his Soyuz 1 spacecraft crashed during its return to Earth following parachute failure.

The crew of Soyuz 11, Georgiy Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, Vladislav Volkov were killed on June 30, 1971, by exposure to the vacuum of space after undocking from the Salyut 1 space station. These are the only recorded fatalities in space.

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when the vehicle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members The Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew, were lost on February 1, 2003, during re-entry at the end of a two-week mission,

Several astronauts and cosmonauts have also been lost in training accidents. The most serious single incident occurred on January 27, 1967, during a pre-launch test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral. A fatal fire claimed the lives of all three crewmembers, and the Command Module cabin was destroyed.

Into the future more commercial involvement in space travel is supplementing government expenditure.