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Milestones in Space Travel

By Kristin Wood. Apr 25, 2014. 12:44 PM.

Topics: American History, History, Science

For most of human history, the sky, the stars, and the moon were all an otherworldly mystery to those observing it from the face of the Earth. Some people believed that the celestial bodies were deities watching over them. Some thought that the stars could tell a story or form a prophecy when read correctly. Others found surprisingly accurate ways to learn about space without ever leaving the solid ground beneath their feet.

Progress was slow until a major breakthrough occurred in 1957. A satellite was launched into Earth’s orbit, and the Space Age began. Nothing would ever be the same again. It’s been a wild ride – let’s review the most important milestones leading up until today.


October 4th, 1957:  Sputnik I

The Russian government kicked off by sending Sputnik I into orbit.  It didn’t last long or provide much information, but it was a crucial first step into space exploration. The United States had also tried to send their own satellites, but failed twice. This began the Space Race between the two countries that motivated a lot of progress.


Aldrin_Look_to_the_StarsNovember 3rd, 1957: Laika

Quickly following Sputnik I, the Russians sent the first animal into space. She was a dog named Laika.  She lived until her food ran out a week later.


April 12th, 1961: Yuri Gagarin

The Russian’s also succeeded in sending the first astronaut into space. Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth and safely returned. At this point, the Russians declared themselves the winner of the Space Race, but America wasn't giving up.


May 5th, 1961: Alan Shepard

The United States began to catch up a month after Gagarin’s victory. Alan Shepard traveled to Space on the Freedom 7, but his trip only lasted 15 minutes.


June 6th,  1963: Valentina Tereshkova

Some wondered whether the woman’s body would survive in space the same way a man’s did. To find answers, Russia sent the first female astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova, into orbit. Her mission lasted three days, and she performed several tests on herself to observe her health.


November 28th, 1964: Mariner 4

The United States sent a spacecraft by Mars, capturing the first photos of the planet’s surface.


February 3rd, 1966: Luna 9

Russia landed the first spacecraft on the moon, retrieving images of its surface and demonstrating that it might be possible (and safe) to send people to there one day soon.


Bean_ApolloJuly 20th, 1969: Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin Jr. became the first people to walk on the moon.


August 1977: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2

The United States began sending spacecrafts farther into space, hoping to learn more about the planets farthest from the sun.


April 24th, 1990: The Hubble Telescope

The Hubble Telescope was first launched. Although it required some repairs at one point, this telescope is still in service today, providing a plethora of pictures from space.


July 8th, 2011: Alantis

The final spacecraft was launched, marking the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. Future space travel now depends on the International Space Station which resides in low Earth orbit.


Browse Space Exploration Books

Kristin Wood
Lover of words, from the shortest tweets to the longest works of literature. She spends her days adventuring into the wilds of social media, working on her MFA, and adding an endless stream of books to her “to-read” list.


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