Exploring space has come along way from where it first began with the astronomers peering into their telescopes, looking up into the sky. They opened the doors to a new world and the scientists, astronauts and space probes have added to those studies. The main reasons for space exploration were the furthering of one's nation (in the Cold War), developing military and defence strategies against other nations, ensuring the future of humankind and development of science as well.
Here is a look at the history of space exploration from the Soviet's first satellite to the first man on the Moon 50 years ago.
The Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite on 4 October 1957. After World War II ended in 1945, the Cold War began between the two remaining superpowers " The USA and The Soviet Union (present Russia and its communist states). With the launch of Sputnik into the low Earth orbit, this was the first sign that the Cold War has translated to a space race. The satellite was the size of a beach ball and made from aluminium. It took 98 minutes to complete one orbit around the Earth. It orbited for three weeks sending signals, a simple beep-beep-beep signal after which it died. It crashed towards Earth two months later, burning up in the atmosphere.
Sputnik 2, launched on 3 November 1957 carried the first living thing to outer space. A street dog named Laika was part of this spacecraft. She orbited the Earth however, she died a few hours later.
Sputnik-1 Image credit: Wikipedia
1961: Gagarin, the first man
Moon became the next mission after space. USA's NASA was formed. The Soviets came out on top when they sent Luna-2, the first probe to the Moon in 1959. Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, also became the first man to ever go to space on 12 April 1961. He completed a single 108-minutes orbit around the Earth in a spacecraft capsule Vostok-1.
On 5 May 1962, twenty-three days later, Alan Shepard became the first American to go to space and he made a 15-minute trip. Before he could make the journey, NASA sent a chimpanzee to space. It was only in 2003 that a third country joined the ranks of sending a human to the Moon. It was China and they sent up Yang Liwei on the lunar orbiter Shenzou V.
A photo of Yuri Gagarin ahead of his epic first journey to Earth's orbit in 1961. Image credit: ESA
1969: Man on the Moon
After the consecutive success of the Soviet Union, NASA's efforts were doubled so did their budget. Finally, on 21 July 1969, US astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to step onto the Moon and spoke those famous words, "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." His teammate Edwin Aldrin joined him around 20 minutes later.
The Soviet Union did not win this race and had a series of fails from 1969-1972.
Neil Armstrong. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
1971: space station
A space station or an orbital station that >orbits the Earth, is a laboratory that conducts experiments and is home to astronauts in space. On 19 April 1971, the Soviet Union launched the first orbital space station, Salyut 1. They also had a secret military space station called Almaz which was in operation from 1973-1978. Skylab was the first space station operated by NASA that lasted 24 weeks. It fell back to Earth in 1979.
The construction of the International Space Station (ISS) started in 1998. It is the biggest man-made structure in space, it is still functioning and it orbits Earth 16 times a day. The ISS, in which 16 countries participate, took over from the Russian space station Mir. It was assembled in space and was in service for 15 years after which it was brought back to Earth in 2001. The Chinese have also sent two space stations to space " Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2. The first one was launched in
The International Space Station the only space station still in use.
More than half the missions that have been sent to Mars have failed. But on 20 July 1976, Viking 1 became the US spacecraft to soft land on Mars and send back images of the Red Planet. The robot Opportunity explored Mars from 2004-2018. NASA's Curiosity Rover is still active there.
Most of the spacecrafts orbiting Mars belongs to NASA. Maven orbits Mars and collects data about the climate. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is searching for traces of water on Mars' surface. Odyssey observes the planet in infrared and serves as a communication relay for both of NASA's rovers. There is one Indian orbiter called MOM or Magalyaan and it is ISRO's first interplanetary spacecraft.
The Curiosity rover. Image courtesy: NASA
1981: Space shuttle
On 12 April 1981, the US space shuttle Columbia was the first reusable manned spacecraft. It was followed by Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour that serveed the ISS until the shuttle programme ended in 2011. Since then the USA has depended on Russia to transport its astronauts to the ISS. Two US shuttles were destroyed in flight, with the loss of 14 astronauts: Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003.
US space shuttle Colombia. Image credit: Wikipedia
NASA sent Hubble in space on 25 April 1990. It is the first space telescope and it was placed into orbit, at 547 kilometres (340 miles) from Earth. Thirteen metres long, Hubble revolutionises astronomy, allowing scientists to observe the planets and most distant stars and galaxies. It has been in use in space for 25 years and has had five servicing missions. It has made more than 1.3 million observations since its first image in 1990. The telescope does not travel to different locations, it orbits the Earth.
Hubble telescope. Image credit: NASA
2001: space tourist
On 28 April 2001, Italian-American multi-millionaire Dennis Tito, 60, becomes the world's first non-astronaut (private citizen) to go to space. The phenomenon of space tourism began. He reportedly paid Russia $20 million to stay on the ISS for eight days. The second tourist was Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu operating system following him was scientist Gregory Olsen. In all, seven space tourists have taken Russian flights to the ISS.
Dennis Tito, the first private citizen to go to space. Image credit: Wikipedia
2008: private SpaceX
Entrepreneur Elon Musk has founded SpaceX and on 29 September 2008, it became the first US company that successfully launched a rocket into space " the Falcon 1. The Dragon cargo ship on 22 May 2012, becomes the first commercial spacecraft to visit the ISS. The Falcon and Dragon family both deliver payloads in Earth's orbit and to ISS.
The SpaceX Dragon, pictured 30 meters from the International Space Station. Image courtesy: NASA TV
2014: comet landing
On 12 November 2014, the European Space Agency places a small robot, Philae, on a comet more than 500 million kilometres from Earth. The first comet lander is part of a mission aiming to explore the origins of the Solar System.
ESA Philae lander. Image credit: Wikipedia
The unmanned US spaceship Voyager 1, launched in September 1977 is the only man-made object that is the furthest away from the Earth and it is still travelling. In August 2012 it made it into interstellar space, about 13 billion miles from Earth. Voyager 2 is also travelling and entered interstellar space in 2018. The primary mission of Voyager 1 was to Jupiter and Saturn; Voyager 2 explored Uranus and Neptune.