October 4, 1957 – The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first man-made objectto orbit the Earth. Sputnik 1 orbited the Earth at about 18,000 miles perhour, completing a full orbit in a little more than an hour and a half. In all, the satellite stayed in space for three months, traveling more than 37 million miles. The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union had begun.
November 3, 1957 – Laika, a stray dog found wandering the streets of Moscow, Russia, becomes the first animal to orbit the Earth. While the experiment proved that a live person could survive being launched into orbit, and the weightlessness of space, Laika probably died a couple of hours after the launch due to stress and overheating.
January 31, 1958, the United States successfully launches its first satellite named Explorer 1. Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Explorer 1 discovered the Van Allen Radiation Belt, a belt of charged particles tapped in space by Earth’s magnetic field.
Launch of Explorer 1 – nasa.gov(public domain)
- September 14, 1959 – The Russian spacecraft Luna 2 becomes the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the moon.
Luna 2 – Public Domain image
April 12, 1961 – Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human being to orbit in space as part of the Vostok 1 space flight. Gagarin orbited the Earth orbited for one hour and 48 minutes. Vostok 1 demonstrated the advance levels of the Russian space program and launched a new era in space exploration.
May 5, 1961 – Alan Shepard becomes the first American to travel to space in the Mercury-Redstone 3 program.
February 20, 1962 – John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit in space in the Mercury-Atlas 6 program.
December 14, 1962 – U.S. Mariner 2 becomes the first spacecraft to fly past Venus.
June 16, 1963 – Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman to orbit in space as part of the Russian Vostok 6 program.
March 18, 1965 – Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov walks in space for 12 minutes marking the first time a human has ever walked in space.
June 3 1965 – Edward White walks in space for 22 minutes from the spacecraft Gemini 4. White becomes the first American to ever walk in space.
July 14, 1965 – U.S. Mariner 4 takes close-up images of Mars.
March 1, 1966 – Russian spacecraft Venera 3 becomes the first spacecraft to touch Venus.
March 31, 1966 – Russian spacecraft Luna 10 becomes the first man-made artificial satellite of the moon.
April 24, 1967 – Russian cosmonaut Vladimir M. Komarov becomes the first person to die as a result of space exploration when Soyuz 1 crashes.
September 18, 1968 – Russian spacecraft Zond 5 is launched. It would become the first spacecraft to orb1t the moon and return to Earth.
December 21, 1968 – U.S. spacecraft Apollo 8 is launched. It would become the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon and return to Earth.
July 20, 1969 – Neil Armstrong becomes the first human to walk on the surface of the moon from the U.S. spacecraft Apollo 11. His famous quote “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” is immortalized in history.
- September 12, 1970 – Russian spacecraft Luna 16 is launched. It would become the first spacecraft to return soil samples from the moon.
- January 31, 1971 – Alan Shepard becomes the first man to hit a golf ball on the surface of the moon.
- March 30, 1971 – U.S. launches Mariner 9. It becomes the first spacecraft to survey Mars from orbit.
- June 30, 1971 – U.S. astronauts become the first to drive a rover on the surface of the moon.
- November 13, 1971 – Apollo 9 succeeds in becoming the first spacecraft to orbit another planet when it orbits Mars.
- March 2, 1972 – U.S. spacecraft Pioneer 10 is launched toward Jupiter with the intention of familiarizing potential extraterrestrial life with the human race. By 1973, it returns close-up images of Jupiter.
- July 15, 1972 – Pioneer 10 successfully travels through the asteroid belt.
- April 5, 1973 – Pioneer 11 is launched. It would eventually fly past Jupiter and Saturn, returning images of rings of Saturn previously unknown.
- May 14, 1973 – Skylab, the first United States space station, is launched. The 100-ton station would orbit the Earth 2,476 times over the 171 days it was manned. Astronauts aboard Skylab would perform ten spacewalks for more than 42 total hours.
- June 24, 1974 – Russia launches the first military space station.
- July 17, 1975 – American Apollo 18 and Russian Soyuz 19 dock, marking the first time spacecrafts from two different nations meet in space. Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts conduct the first international handshake from space.
- September 3, 1976 – U.S. spacecraft Viking 2 lands on the surface of Mars.
- December 1978 – U.S. spacecraft Pioneer reaches Venus and drops probes to map its surface.
- September 1, 1979 – Pioneer 11 takes the first up-close images of Saturn.
- March 1, 1982 – Russian spacecraft Venera 13 takes the first soil sample from Venus.
- March 13, 1982 – Russian cosmonauts become the first humans to inhabit a space station, staying in space for 211 days.
- April 4, 1983 – The space shuttle Challenger makes its first journey into space.
- June 19, 1983 – Sally Ride becomes the first American woman to travel in space.
- August 30, 1983 – Guion S. Bluford, Jr. becomes the first African American man to travel in space.
- June 17, 1984 – Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya becomes the fist woman to walk in space.
- August 30, 1984 – The Space Shuttle Discovery makes its first voyage into space.
- October 5, 1984 – U.S. astronaut Katherine Sullivan becomes the first American woman to walk in space.
- October 3, 1985 – The space shuttle Atlantis makes its first journey into space.
- January, 1986 – U.S. spacecraft Voyager flies past Uranus.
- January 28, 1986 – U.S. space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after liftoff. All seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to fly in space, are killed just 73 seconds after liftoff.
- March, 1986 – Spacecrafts from Japan, Russia, and western Europe fly by Halley’s Comet.
- December, 1987 – Russian cosmonaut Yuri V. Romanenko returns from the Russian space station Mir after spending a record 326 days in space.
- May 4, 1989 – U.S. space shuttle Atlantis is launched.
- April 24, 1990 – U.S. Space Shuttle Discovery is launched and deploys the Edwin P. Hubble Space Telescope.
- August, 1990 – U.S. spacecraft Magellan arrives at Venus for the purposes of taking radar images of its surface.
- June 5, 1991 – U.S. space shuttle Columbia is launched to conduct experiments on the effects of weightlessness on humans.
- January 25, 1994 – U.S. launches Clementine, a Department of Defense satellite to map lunar surface for ballistic missile defense system. The satellite fails five months later.
- March 22, 1995 – Russian cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov returns to Earth after spending 483 aboard the space station Mir, setting a world record for time in space.
- December 7, 1995 – U.S. spacecraft Galileo arrives at Jupiter, sending a probe into its atmosphere and putting a satellite into orbit around the giant planet.
- November 19, 1996 – U.S. space shuttle Columbia lifts off on its 21st mission. The mission carries Story Musgrave, the oldest person to ever travel in space at the time (61 years old).
- March 31, 1997 – U.S. spacecraft Pioneer 10 is calculated at a distance of 6.7 billion miles from Earth, too far to be controlled by NASA. Moving at 28,000 miles per hour, it will reach Aldeberan in the constellation Taurus in about two million years.
- September 12, 1997 – Mars Global Surveyor arrives at Mars, taking over 2,000 images of the planet and finding evidence of streams, ponds, oceans, and an underground water drainage system.
- October 15, 1997 – The double probe Cassini/Huygens is launched toward Saturn. The ambitious 2.5 billion dollar project involves 17 nations and hundreds of American and European scientists. The planet is for the probes to arrive in Saturn in 2004 and take up-close pictures of the planet, perform experiments, and study the moon Titan.
- January 7, 1998 – NASA launches the Lunar Prospector probe to the moon for the purposes of mapping its surface, and to confirm that the moon’s poles contain ice. The mission would eventually discover at least 6.6 trillion tons of ice located at the poles.
- February 14, 1998 – Four global communication satellites are launched for the purposes of providing voice and data links for home and remote telephone systems.
- April 17, 1998 – U.S. space shuttle Columbia is launched on its 25th mission.
- Japan launches its Nozomi probe to Mars, marking the first ever mission to Mars not directed by the United States or Russia.
- October 29, 1998 – At age 77, John Glenn becomes the oldest man to travel to space.
- December 11, 1998 – NASA launches the Mars Climate Orbiter for the purposes of studying weather on Mars. Flawed software causes the planet to orbit too close to Mars and is incinerated in its atmosphere.
- November 19, 1999 – China launches Shenzhou, its first unmanned test for their manned spacecraft.
- January 3, 2000 – U.S. spacecraft Galileo encounters the Jovian (Jupiter) moon Europa.
- February 11, 2000 – U.S. space shuttle Endeavor lifts off with radar and mapping technology. The mission produces a three dimensional model of 80 percent of Earth’s landmass.
- February 14, 2000 – NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) begins orbiting the asteroid Eros and delivers close-up images.
- November 2, 2000 – Astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikale dock at the International Space Station, becoming the first people to inhabit it, staying for several months.
- February 14, 2001 – NEAR makes landing on the asteroid Eros.
- February 14, 2001 – U.S. astronauts Thomas Jones and Robert Curbeam Jr.make the 100th spacewalk in U.S. space travel history. The spacewalk was made to install a part of the International Space Station.
- March 23, 2001 – Russian space station Mir is decommissioned. It breaks up in the atmosphere and falls to pieces in the Pacific Ocean.
- April 28, 2001 – Dennis Tito becomes the first civilian to pay for space travel. He pays Russia 20 million dollars for the trip.
- October 16, 2001 – U.S. spacecraft Galileo passes by the Jovian (Jupiter) moon Io.
- October 24, 2001 – NASA’s Mars Odyssey begins orbiting the red planet.
- February 1, 2003 – Space Shuttle Columbia, the U.S. space program’s oldest space shuttle, breaks up over Texas on its return trip to Florida during its 28th mission. All seven astronauts aboard are killed.
- January 25, 2004 – The rover Opportunity lands on Meridiani Planum of Mars. The rover returns incredible, detailed pictures of the Martian surface
- June 21, 2004 – The first non-government sponsored spacecraft is launched into space in a venture funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
- July 1, 2004 – The rover Cassini makes it to Saturn. It would spend four years taking detailed photographs of the ringed planet and its many moons.
- January 14, 2005 – The Huygens probe parachutes to the surface of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. The probe returns detailed images of Titan’s surface, marking the first time in history a spacecraft had successfully landed on a moon other than Earth’s.
July 26,2005 – NASA resumes its space shuttle launches for the first time since the Columbia disaster of 2003 with the launch of Discovery.