Timeline: Famous Firsts in Space Exploration

Updated July 22, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Image of Pluto sent back by New Horizons.

Source: NASA

Here are dates of important firsts in space exploration

1958 1963 1975 1981 1985 1990 2004 2015
Project Mercury, initiated in 1958 and completed in 1963, is the United States' first human-in-space program. It is designed to further knowledge about humanity's capabilities in space.
Seven military-jet test pilots are introduced to the public as America's first astronauts. They are: Lt. M. Scott Carpenter, USN; Capt. L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., USAF; Lt. Col. John H. Glenn, Jr., USMC; Cap. Virgil I. Grissom, USAF; Lt. Cdr. Walter M. Schirra, Jr., USN; Lt. Cdr. Alan B. Shepard, Jr., USN; and Capt. Donald K. Slayton, USAF.
NASA tests the first female trainees for astronaut duty in the Mercury program. Thirteen out of America's 25 top female civilian pilots (women weren't allowed to be military pilots then) pass the same rigorous testing that male candidates underwent in the Mercury 7 space program. Although all the pilots prove fit to become Mercury astronauts, NASA suddenly cancels its testing of qualified women in July 1961, claiming that they require jet test-pilot training at Edwards Air Force Base. Unfortunately, instruction at Edwards is closed to women. This new requirement ends America's chance to put the first women in space.
April 12
Yuri Gagarin of the USSR becomes the first person in space.
May 5
Alan Shepard makes a suborbital flight in Freedom 7, becoming the first American in space. Time: 15 minutes, 22 seconds.
Aug. 6-7
The USSR's Gherman Titov becomes the first man to take a long-duration flight in space. His flight time is 25 hours and 18 minutes.
Feb. 20
John Glenn makes a three-orbit flight in Friendship 7 and becomes the first American in orbit. Time: 4 hours, 55 minutes.
June 16
Valentina Tereshkova of the USSR becomes the first woman in space.
Oct. 12
The USSR's Vladimir Komarov, Konstantin P. Feoktistov, and Boris G. Yegorov take part in the first 3-person orbital flight and the first flight without space suits on the Voskhod 1.
March 18
Alexei A. Leonov of the USSR takes the first space walk, which lasts ten minutes.
March 23
Virgil Grissom and John Young are the first American 2-person crew on the GT III.
June 3-7
While on the GT IV, the first American space walk is made by Edward White, II. It lasts slightly over 20 minutes.
March 16-17
The first docking happens between a staffed spaceraft, GT VIII, and an unstaffed space vehicle, an orbiting Agena rocket. Neil Armstrong and David Scott are on board the GT VIII.
Dec. 21-27
Apollo 8 becomes the first spacecraft in circumlunar orbit and sends TV transmissions from this orbit. Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders are the first astronauts to view the whole Earth.
Mar. 3-13
James A. McDivitt, David R. Scott, and Russell L. Schweikart participate in the first staffed flight of Lunar Module on Apollo 9.
May 18-26
Apollo 10 becomes the first staffed flight to descend within nine miles of the Moon's surface. Thomas P. Stafford, Eugene A. Cernan, and John W. Young are on the flight.
July 16-24
Apollo 11 takes off on the first manned flight to the moon with Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins.
July 20
Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the Moon.
Oct. 11-16
For the first time ever, the USSR puts three spacecraft and seven men into the Earth's orbit simultaneously.
June 6-30
Spacecraft Soyuz 11 links up for the first time with space station, Salyut 1. It is also the longest stay in space to date. Georgiy Tomofeyevich Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav Nikolayevich Volkov, and Viktor Ivanovich Patsyev die on the mission due to loss of pressurization in the spacecraft.
July 26-Aug. 7
David Scott and James Irwin use the first lunar rover and send the first live pictures of lift-off from the Moon while on Apollo 15.
May 25-June 22
The first staffed Skylab is launched, Skylab SL-2, manned by Charles Conrad, Jr., Joseph P. Kerwin, and Paul J. Weitz.
July 15
The Russian Soyuz and the U.S. Apollo launches. The Apollo-Soyuz mission is the first international manned spaceflight.
July 17
The American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft link up for the first time.
Sept. 18
General Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez becomes the first Latin American, first Cuban, and first person of African descent to fly in space aboard the Soviet Soyuz 38.
April 12
The first voyage of the space shuttle Columbia begins. Capt. Robert L. Crippen and John W. Young are on the flight.
June 18
Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space.
Aug. 30
Guion S. Bluford is the first African-American astronaut to travel in space on the STS-8 Challenger flight.
Feb. 7
Astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart make the first untethered space walks (with jet backpacks) on the STS-8 Challenger flight.
July 25
Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya becomes the first woman to walk in space.
Aug. 30
Space shuttle Discovery has its first flight.
Aug. 8
First flight of Atlantis space shuttle.
Sept. 29-Oct. 3
First flight of a space shuttle (Discovery) since the Challenger disaster.
May 4
Magellan Venus probe becomes the first probe to be launched from a shuttle, Atlantis.
May 7-16
While on a U.S. Endeavour mission, three mission specialists capture a satellite using their hands only for the first time.
Feb. 3-11
First rendezvous between a U.S. spacecraft, Discovery, and a Russian space station, Mir. Also, Lt. Col. Eileen M. Collins becomes the first female to pilot a space shuttle during this mission.
March 14-22
U.S. astronaut Dr. Norman E. Thagard becomes the first American to fly aboard a Russian spacecraft, Soyuz TM-21, with a Russian crew. He is also the first American to enter the Mir space station.
June 27-July 7
The Atlantis becomes the first space shuttle to link-up with Mir.
March 22-31
Shannon W. Lucid is the first American woman to live on Mir.
Oct. 31-March 18, 2001
The first crew boards the International Space Station.
April 8-19
Mobile Transporter, the first railroad, is put in space during a mission of the Atlantis.
Aug. 10
Russia's Yuri Malenchenko becomes the first man to get married from space.
Oct. 7
SpaceX, a private company, sends an unmanned capsule with supplies to the International Space Station. It is the first commercial space mission and the first under contract with NASA.
The spacecraft New Horizons passes by Pluto on July 14, 2015, and comes within 7,800 miles of its surface, its closest flyby. The craft captured images of Pluto and sent them back to Earth. The mission measured the diameter of Pluto (1,472 miles), confirmed the presence of nitrogen and methane ice at the polar region, and discovered that there are higher levels of nitrogen emitting from the atmosphere into space.

by Jennie Wood

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