Human spaceflight

12 April is International Day of Human Spaceflight. We look at some of the landmark moments for humanity in space.

An astronaut in space
Credit: NASA

4 October 1957

The Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 becomes the first artificial satellite. The 58 cm diameter metal ball later burns up on re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere after three months in orbit.

3 November 1957

Sputnik 2 is launched. Its passenger, the dog Laika, dies due to overheating of the cabin after a few hours.

31 January 1958

The United States launches Explorer 1, the first artificial satellite to carry an onboard telemetry system.

2 January 1959

The Soviet Union’s Luna 1 becomes the first artificial object to leave Earth orbit. Intended to impact the Moon, a rocket burn timed incorrectly causes the spacecraft to miss and end up orbiting the Sun.

28 May 1959

The United States launches a rhesus monkey and a squirrel monkey, named Able and Baker, on a suborbital flight – the first primates in space.

12 September 1959

Luna 2 is launched and succeeds in impacting the Moon where Luna 1 had failed.

19 August 1960

Korabl-Sputnik 2 becomes the first satellite to carry animals in orbit and return them to Earth alive, launched with a crew of two dogs, two rats and 40 mice.

12 April 1961

The first flight of the Soviet Union’s Vostok programme carries cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in a single orbit of the Earth – the first human spaceflight in history.

The mission was launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan and its entire journey lasted just 108 minutes. Gagarin, then aged 27, returned safely to the Earth after ejecting from the capsule 7 km above the ground.

27 October 1961

Saturn 1, the rocket used for the first of the United States’ Apollo missions to the Moon, is tested for the first time.

3 February 1966

Unmanned Soviet spacecraft Luna 9 makes the first soft landing on the Moon.

3 April 1966

Luna 10 becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Moon.

27 January 1967

All three astronauts aboard NASA’s Apollo 1 are killed in a cabin fire while the rocket is still on the launchpad.

21 December 1968

Apollo 8 launches and becomes the first manned mission to orbit the Moon.

20 July 1969

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first humans to set foot on the Moon. The Apollo 11 command module’s pilot, Michael Collins, remains in orbit.

19 April 1971

The Soviet Union launches the first space station, Salyut 1.

13 December 1972

Harrison Schmidt and Eugene Cernan become the last two people to arrive on and to leave the Moon, respectively. Their mission, Apollo 17, is the last in the United States’ programme of manned lunar explanation.

11 July 1979

Skylab, the United States’ first space station, crashes into Australia.

12 April 1981

The Space Shuttle Colombia launches, in the first mission for NASA’s new fleet of reusable spacecraft.

7 February 1984

NASA astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart complete the first untethered spacewalk.

28 January 1986

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after launch, killing all seven crew on board. The shuttle fleet is grounded for two years.

2 November 2000

The first crew arrives on the International Space Station, a joint project involving five different space agencies from across the globe.

28 April 2001

US businessman Dennis Tito becomes the first tourist to visit the International Space Station, arriving on a Russian Soyuz rocket at a reported cost of $20 m.

14 January 2004

US president George W Bush announces the Vision for Space Exploration, which was intended to see the return of manned missions to the Moon and ones to Mars. It was cancelled by Barack Obama in June 2010.

21 June 2004

SpaceShipOne completes the first ever manned private spaceflight. Its manufacturer, Scaled Composites, is later acquired by Northrop Grumman, and the company is developing an orbital launcher for Virgin Galactic.

25 May 2012

SpaceX becomes the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.