From GPS technology to satellite Internet, we use features every day that were once unthinkable. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that outer space was unexplored territory. Advancements in science have made it possible to achieve great things in space and in the exploration of our universe.
Take a look at some of the biggest moments in space history that have brought us the current technology we use today:
1957 – First satellite in space
In 1957, the first satellite was launched into space. The world’s first attempt at exploring the universe began with the small, beach-ball sized satellite named Sputnik I. The first launch was later followed by a second attempt: Sputnik II, which carried an animal on board. These first big moments for satellites paved the way for current communication technology such as satellite Internet and GPS.
1958 – First American satellite launched
Ready to compete with the Sputnik satellite, America launched Explorer 1 (also named the Satellite 1958 Alpha) from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It blew up the launch pad, but achieved an orbit around Earth at approximately 1,560 miles above ground.
1958 – NASA signed into existence
Fearful of losing the Cold War, the United States jumped on the opportunity to become leaders in space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was written and signed in 1958.
1961 – First human to successfully orbit the globe
Soviet Union cosmonaut, Yuri A. Gagarin, was launched on a 108-minute flight on April 12, which made him the first human in space.
1961 – First American manned space mission
Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, just three weeks after Gagarin.
1965 – First spacewalk
Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov exited a spaceship (the Voskhod 2 capsule) to complete a 12-minute spacewalk. The mission took a turn for the worse when the spacecraft landed hundreds of miles away from its intended destination. The two crew members spent a full day in the Russian snow, waiting for ground rescue.
1969 – First man on the moon
Apollo 11 launched and astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong become the first men to walk the moon. They were later quarantined for three weeks on Earth – a precaution taken to ensure they didn’t bring back any dangerous space microbes.
1971 – First occupation of a space station
Three cosmonauts from the Soviet Union board the Salyut 1 space station and stayed aboard for 24 days – a record for space occupation. Valve failure caused the spacecraft to vent air on the return shuttle; all three astronauts tragically died in the process, and no additional missions were sent to the Salyut Space Station.
1973 – First American space station is launched
The space station Skylab was launched on a six-year mission. Three crews occupied the station during 1973 and 1974, but the station fell to earth in Australia in 1979. Australia fined the United States $400 for littering on their land.
1975 – First instance of international space exploration
The Apollo-Soyuz project put a U.S. and a Russian astronaut together in space for a two-day space rendezvous, and they later survived an equipment failure that filled their capsule with toxic fumes.
1976 – First landing on Mars
The Viking 1 landed on Mars and the Viking 2 launched weeks after. Both landed safely and sent back data and photos for six years.
1977 – NASA launches Voyager 1 and 2
Two spacecrafts were launched and explore the solar system; even now – more than 30 years later – the spacecrafts provide data to Earth. These vehicles have traveled farther than any other man-made objects and host information about Earth and humans (just in case they are ever found by extra-terrestrial life forms).
1981 – First space shuttle launch
The space shuttle Columbia made the first NASA shuttle mission with two crew members.
1984 – First untethered spacewalk
NASA developed a Manned Maneuvering Unit that allowed for astronauts to exit the shuttle without a safety line.
1986 – Mir Space Station launched
The Russian space station Mir launched in 1986 and was inhabited in intervals. It was abandoned in 1999 and fell out of orbit and into the Pacific Ocean in 2001.
1990 – Hubble Space Telescope launched
The space shuttle Discovery opened its doors to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope for universe exploration without any interference from the Earth’s atmosphere.
1996 – Satellites makes the Internet more accessible
HughesNet began offering satellite Internet commercially to consumers. This allowed for more homes to be connected to the Internet, as no landlines were necessary for the satellite technology to work. This was huge for rural homes needing Internet. Satellite Internet providers began to expand, and satellite Internet became a popular choice for customers in rural areas.
1996 – Mars rover is launched
Mars Pathfinder was launched in 1996 and landed successfully on Mars in 1997.
1998 – The International Space Station was launched
The International Space Station (ISS) was assembled in two separate modules, which launched in 1998. They were then joined together in orbit; other modules then followed, and the first crew arrived in the year 2000, on November 2. It has since been an active part of science discoveries and has been continuously inhabited for over 13 years.
2004 – Spirit and Opportunity rovers land on Mars
NASA’s most complex rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, parachuted to different parts of Mars’ surface and explored the features of the planet. They continue to explore and carry out this mission.
2004 – Spacecraft Cassini arrived at Saturn
After 7 years of travelling, the spacecraft Cassini arrived at its destination. Cassini’s mission was to learn more about Saturn, its rings, and its large family of moons.
2005 – First landing on another planet’s moon
The European-built Huygens probe parachutes onto Titan, a moon of Saturn. This provided pictures and other data back to Earth.
2013 – The ISS celebrates 15 years
On November 20, 2013, the International Space Station celebrated its 15th birthday. This was a notable anniversary for the space station and continues to provide Earth with valuable data from its current inhabitants in orbit.
As you can see, we have come a long way in space exploration. With so many accomplishments and historic milestones, it’s exciting to think about where we could be another 50 years from now as technology advances and we learn more about the world around us.