The Exciting Journey Through the Human Space Exploration Timeline

3rd Mar 2022
The Exciting Journey Through the Human Space Exploration Timeline

It is customary to count the Space exploration timeline from 1957, when the first artificial Earth satellite was launched. But, in fact, it was the beginning of the 20th century space race, which is only part of the long and exciting human space story. In this article we have gathered for you the most important events in space exploration from the beginning until current days.

Early space exploration timeline

The history of space exploration timeline dates back to before the current era. The beginnings of astronomy originated in the era of the Sumerians, Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and China. In the first centuries of our era, there was an astronomical school in Baghdad. The first catalog of stars was compiled, which included about 850 astronomical objects and the first tables of the movement of the Sun and Moon. The heyday of astronomy came in the Renaissance when scientific astronomy and astrology were separated. From this moment, we will start our space exploration timeline.

First telescopes

In 1607, the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei constructed the first telescope from observation tubes. At first, it was a triple magnification telescope, but later the scientist managed to achieve a 32x magnification while the size of the structure reached 100m. Through the telescope, Galileo was able to see craters on the Moon, Jupiter’s satellites, some stars of the Milky Way, and other celestial bodies.

In 1611 and 1668, the German Johannes Kepler and the Englishman Isaac Newton respectively presented their versions of telescopes to the world. And some years later, in 1686, Newton deduced his famous third law, which formed the basic principle of operation for all modern rockets – “the force of action is equal to the force of reaction.” However, rockets appeared long before that.

First rockets

The invention belongs to China and dates back to around the 13th century. By that time, gunpowder was already actively used in the Celestial Empire, and the first rockets were shells in the form of a paper tube with a powder charge. The Chinese called them fire arrows and used them for fireworks and in battles. At the beginning of the 18th century in India, rockets began to be sheathed with sheet iron. And in 1804, the English soldier and inventor Sir William Congreve created the first Congreve rocket, which was later adopted by the English army and many other armies of the world.

Congreve rocket

At the same time, serious discussions about the suitability of rockets for travelling in a vacuum had begun. In 1810, the British mathematician William Moore derived the equation for an ideal rocket, which, three years later, he detailed in his treatise on the principles of rocket mechanics. In the early 20th century, the same equation was independently derived by the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1903) and the American physicist-engineer Robert Goddard (1914). The first got the laurels of the inventor of the equation (it was named after him), and the second is known as the inventor of the rocket. In 1926, Goddard managed to build and launch the world’s first liquid-fueled multi-stage rocket. It successfully ascended 3 km, but it was still very far from space.

Goddard rocket

It has been scientifically determined that the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space lies at an altitude of 100km above sea level. It is called the Karman line. This barrier was first overcome in 1944 by the V-2 long-range ballistic missile, invented by the German engineer Wernher von Braun. The Wehrmacht had high hopes for the V-2, and they damaged European cities significantly but fortunately failed to turn the tide of the war. After the victory over Hitler, the V-2 went to the USSR and the USA as a trophy. The countries created their own ballistic missiles and then space rockets based on V-2. There were still 12 years to pass before the space flight timeline started.

Timeline of space travel

On 4th October 1957, the USSR used a modification of its R-7 ballistic missile to launch the first artificial Earth satellite into LEO. This event went down in history as the beginning of the space race between the two superpowers. The USSR launched its satellite 4 months before the United States and then stroked Americans’ pride twice more by delivering a pennant with the coat of arms of the USSR to the Moon and sending the first man into space.

On 12th April 1961, for the first time in the history of mankind, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin circled the Earth on the Vostok-1 spacecraft. The flight lasted 108 minutes, after which the capsule deorbited and successfully landed in Russia. The United States urgently needed to catch up. For the next 8 years, the space race quickly gained momentum. Countries implemented various space programs, but the main emphasis was on manned ones. In the USSR, these were Vostok, Voskhod, and Soyuz, in the USA – Mercury Gemini and Apollo.

First manned spaceflights timeline

First manned spaceflights timeline

The USSR continued to clearly lead in manned flights until 1965. Then, the United States gradually began to win back the superiority. In 1965-66, NASA conducted 10 flights under the Gemini program, to which the USSR was able to respond with only one Voskhod-2 launch. And in 1967, tragedy struck that forced the Soviets to suspend the Soyuz program for a full year and a half. During the first mission of the Soyuz spacecraft, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died. Due to the failure of the parachute system during landing, the capsule crashed into the ground at high speed, collapsed, and burned down. While the USSR was doing work on the mistakes, the Americans were preparing the flight to the Moon. The Apollo mission and the landing on the lunar surface performed by Neil Armstrong in July 1969 finally turned the tide of the space race in favour of the United States.

1960-1970 manned spaceflight timeline


Date Spacecraft Crew Country Achievements Duration
12 April Vostok 1 Yuri Gagarin
World’s first crewed spaceflight.
(orbital, maximum altitude 327 km)
1 hrs 48 min
5 May Mercury-Redstone 3
(Freedom 7)
Alan Shepard
Suborbital flight, maximum altitude
186,5 km
15 min
21 July Mercury-Redstone 4
(Liberty Bell 7)
Virgil Grissom
Suborbital flight, maximum altitude
190 km
16 min
6 August Vostok 2 Gherman Titov
First day-long flight in LEO. 25 hrs 18 min


20 February Mercury-Atlas 6
(Friendship 7)
John Glenn
First American crewed orbital flight
(altitude 186 km)
4 hrs 55 min
24 May Mercury-Atlas 7
(Aurora 7)
Malcolm Scott Carpenter
  4 hrs 56 min
11 August Vostok 3 Andriyan Nikolayev
First orbital flight of two crewed spacecraft simultaneously
(«Vostok 3» и « Vostok 4»), with a record flight duration of 94 hrs 25 min
3 days 22 hrs 25 min
12 August Vostok 4 Pavel Popovich
Rapprochement with Vostok-3 up to 6 km 2 days 22 hrs 59 min
3 October Mercury-Atlas 8
(Sigma 7)
Walter Schirra
  9 hrs 13 min


15 May Mercury-Atlas 9
(Faith 7)
Gordon Cooper
First day-long flight managed by the USA 1 day 10 hrs 20 min
14 June Vostok 5 Valery Bykovsky
First orbital flight of two crewed spacecraft simultaneously, with a record flight duration of 119 hrs 6 min.
This record has not been broken to this day by solo flight.
4 days 23 hrs 6 min
16 June Vostok 6 Valentina Tereshkova
First woman in space.
Rapprochement with Vostok-5 up to 5 km.
2 days 22 hrs 50 min


12 October Voskhod 1 Vladimir Komarov, Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov
First multiple person spaceflight 1 days 0 hrs 17 min


18 March Voskhod 2 Pavel Belyayev, Alexei Leonov
First two-seat flight. extravehicular activity. 1 days 2 hrs 2 min
23 March Gemini 3 Virgil Grissom, John Young
First flight of a US two-seat spacecraft. 4 hrs 53 min
3 June Gemini 4 James McDivitt, Edward White
First American extravehicular activity. 4 days 1 hrs 56 min
21 August Gemini 5 Gordon Cooper, Charles Conrad
Cooper becomes the first person to orbit the Earth on two different missions.
Record flight duration 190 hrs 55 min.
7 days 22 hrs 55 min
4 December Gemini 7 Frank Borman, James Lovell
Record flight duration 330 hrs 35 min. First US group flight. Rapprochement with Gemini 6А to 30 cm. 13 days 18 hrs 35 min
15 December Gemini 6А Walter Schirra, Thomas P. Stafford
First US group flight. Rapprochement with Gemini
7 to 30 cm.
For the first time, 4 astronauts were in space at the same time.
1 days 1 hrs 51 min


16 March Gemini 8 Neil Armstrong, David Scott
First docking in space with Agena Target Vehicle. 10 hrs 41 min
3 June Gemini 9А Thomas P. Stafford, Eugene Cernan
Cernan’s extravehicular activity. 3 days 0 hrs 21 min
18 July Gemini 10 John Young, Michael Collins
Agena 10 and Agena 8 docking. Collins’s
extravehicular activity.
2 days 22 hrs 47 min
12 September Gemini 11 Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon
Held altitude record prior to lunar missions (1372 km)
Gordon’s extravehicul aractivity.
2 days 23 hrs 17 min
11 November Gemini 12 Jim Lovell, Buzz Aldrin
Aldrin performs extravehicular
activity three times, total duration – 5,5 hrs.
3 days 22 hrs 35 min


23 April Soyuz 1 Vladimir Komarov
First Soyuz 1 flight. First Soviet cosmonaut to fly in two missions. The cruft crashed on re-entry. First human fatality during a spaceflight. 1 day 2 hrs 37 min


11 October Apollo 7 Walter Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, Walter Cunningham
First Apollo flight. First three-person US crew. Walter Schirra becomes the first astronaut to fly in three missions. 10 days 20 hrs 9 min
26 October Soyuz 3 Georgy Beregovoy
Attempt to dock with uncrewed Soyuz 2. 3 days 22 hrs 51 min
21 December Apollo
Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, William Anders
First tree-person crewed US lunar orbiting flight. 6 days 3 hrs 1 min


14 January Soyuz 4 Vladimir Shatalov
First docking of two crewed spacecraft. 2 days 23 hrs 23 min
15 January Soyuz 5 Boris Volyno, Aleksei Yeliseyev, Yevgeny Khrunov
First docking of two crewed spacecraft.
Aleksei Yeliseyev, Yevgeny Khrunov performed first transfer between space vehicles from Soyuz 5 to Soyuz 4. 
3 days 0 hrs 56 min
3 March Apollo 9 James McDivitt, David Scott, Russell Schweickart
Tested Lunar Module in low Earth orbit. 10 days 1 hrs 1 min
18 May Apollo 10 Thomas P. Stafford, John Young, Eugene Cernan
Second flight to the Moon. Moon landing run-through. 8 days 0 hrs 3 min
16 July Apollo 11 Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin
First lunar landing performed by Armstrong and Aldrin 8 days 3 hrs 9 min
11 October Soyuz 6 Georgy Shonin, Valeri Kubasov
First three-craft spaceflight. 4 days 22 hrs 42 min
12 October Soyuz 7 Anatoly Filipchenko, Vladislav Volkov, Viktor Gorbatko
Mutual maneuvers of three spaceships. 4 days 22 hrs 41 min
13 October Soyuz 8 Vladimir Shatalov, Aleksei Yeliseyev
7 astronauts in space simultaneously for the first time. 4 days 22 hrs 50 min
14 November Apollo 12 Pete Conrad, Richard F. Gordon, Alan Bean
Second lunar landing. 10 days 4 hrs 36 min


11 April Apollo 13 Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, Fred Haise
Lunar landing aborted following explosion en route. The craft orbited the Moon and went back to Eart. 5 days 23 hrs

The last mission and sixth lunar landing of Apollo 17 took place on 7th December 1972. After that, the program was closed due to the lack of new scientific value at the expense of the state budget and taxpayers ($25 billion was spent on the program, which would be more than $150 billion by today’s standards). This forced the competitive ardor of the Americans to be somewhat reduced.

The USSR was in no hurry to win back the leadership as well. In 1971, the Soviets suffered another tragedy in space associated with landing again. After the successful docking of the Soyuz 11 and Salyut 1 spacecraft in June 1971, three Soviet cosmonauts died during re-entry due to a pressure leak in the cabin. The space race has slowed down and moved into a more relaxed course. Nevertheless, satellite and interplanetary programs continued to develop, as well as gradually growing competition from other countries that did not want to be left out of the big space history.

Other important events in space exploration timeline 

The chart of space exploration
  • July 29, 1958: The US forms the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA. From this moment, the NASA space exploration timeline starts.
  • October 4, 1959: The Soviet interplanetary automatic station Luna-3 takes the first photograph of the far side of the Moon.
  • February 12, 1961: The Soviet Union launches a probe to Venus, but it stops responding after a week.
  • July 10, 1962: The United States launched the Telstar 1 satellite, which provides transatlantic television transmissions.
  • July 28, 1962: The USSR launches its first successful spy satellite, Kosmos-7.
  • August 27, 1962: The US launches Mariner 2, making the first successful interplanetary flyby of Venus.
  • September 29, 1962: NASA launches Canada’s Alouette 1 satellite aboard a Thor-Agena B rocket, making Canada the third country to have its own satellite in orbit.
  • August 19, 1964: NASA launches the first geostationary telecommunications satellite, Syncom 3, on a Thor-Delta rocket.
  • July 14, 1965: Mariner 4 makes the first successful flyby of Mars.
  • January 14, 1966: The lead Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer SergeiKorolev dies from complications from a routine operation, leaving the Soviet space program without its most influential leader in 20 years.
  • February 3, 1966: Unmanned Soviet spacecraft “Luna-9” makes the first soft landing on the Moon.
  • March 1, 1966: The Soviet probe “Venera-3” becomes the first spacecraft to land on Venus, but communication with it is cut off before data can be obtained.
  • April 3, 1966: The Soviet space probe Luna 10 enters lunar orbit, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon.
  • November 26, 1965: France launches its first Asterix satellite on a Diamant A rocket, becoming the third country to do so.
  • February 11, 1970: A Japanese Lambda-4 launch vehicle launches the Japanese Osumi test satellite into orbit. 
  • April 24, 1970: China launches its first Dong Fang Hong-1 satellite on a Long March 1 rocket, becoming the fifth country capable of launching its own satellites into space.
  • September 2, 1970: The USSR launched Luna 16, the first successful automated mission to search for lunar samples.
  • October 28, 1971: The UK successfully launches its Prospero satellite into orbit using the first British Black Arrow rocket, becoming the sixth country to launch its satellites into space.
  • November 13, 1971: The US spacecraft Mariner 9 orbits Mars for the first time in history and makes the first complete map of the planet’s surface.
  • January 5, 1972: US President Richard Nixon announces the development of the Space Shuttle.
  • May 14, 1973: A Saturn V rocket launches the first US space station, Skylab.
  • May 31, 1975: The European Space Agency is created, bringing together 22 countries.
  • July 17, 1975: Soviet and American spacecraft Soyuz 19 and Apollo 18 respectively dock successfully.
  • August 9, 1975: ESA launches its first Cos-B satellite aboard a NASA Thor-Delta rocket.
  • September 9, 1975: The United States sends Viking 2, consisting of a lander and an orbiter, to Mars. July 20, 1976 Viking successfully lands on Mars.
  • August 20, 1977: The US launches the Voyager 2 spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune.
  • September 29, 1977: The USSR launches the Salyut-6 space station into orbit. The station can simultaneously dock two vehicles, including the Progress supply ship.
  • February 22, 1978: An American Atlas F rocket launches the first GPS satellite, Navstar 1, into orbit.
  • July 11, 1979: The US space station Skylab returns to Earth after landing in a sparsely populated area of ​​western Australia.
  • December 24, 1979: Successful launch of the French and Europe’s first launch vehicle Ariane.
  • July 18, 1980: India launches its Rohini 1 satellite on its SLV-3 rocket, becoming the seventh nation capable of sending payloads into space on its own.
  • April 12, 1981: The first Space Shuttle Columbia takes off from Cape Canaveral.
  • June 18, 1983: Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.
  • February 7, 1984: First ever untethered spacewalk. Astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart maneuver up to 328 feet away from the Challenger using a manned maneuvering module.
  • January 28, 1986: The Space Shuttle Challenger breaks apart 73 seconds after launch due to the explosion of an external fuel tank. The entire crew is killed. The disaster brings the Space Shuttle program to a standstill for more than two years.
  • On February 20, 1986, the USSR launched the Mir space station.
  • March 13, 1986: A crew of two cosmonauts launches aboard the Soyuz T-15 spacecraft to commission the Mir space station. During the 18-month mission, they also revived the abandoned Salyut-7 station and moved some of the equipment from it to Mir.
  • November 5, 1988: The USSR conducts the first and last unmanned test flight of the Buran Shuttle, designed to counterbalance the Space Shuttle. After 2 years, the USSR ceases to exist, and its successor Russia closes the program.
  • April 25, 1990: The Space Shuttle Discovery launches the Hubble Space Telescope into Earth orbit.
  • February 3, 1995: The launch of the Discovery spacecraft and its docking with the Mir space station.
  • June 25, 1997: An unmanned Russian supply ship Progress collides with the Mir space station.
  • November 20, 1998: Launch and deployment of solar panels from the Russian Zarya control module as the first segment of the International Space Station.
  • March 28, 1999. First commercial payload lifts off from Sea Launch in the Pacific.
  • September 8, 2000. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos launches space travel company Blue Origin.
  • March 23, 2001: Mothballed in 1999, the Mir station descends into the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrates over the Pacific Ocean.
  • May 6, 2001: American millionaire Dennis Tito becomes the first tourist to visit the International Space Station. He paid $20 million for the 8-day trip.
  • May 6, 2002: Entrepreneur Elon Musk founds a private aerospace company, SpaceX, after successfully selling $180 million in PayPal shares.
  • February 1, 2003: Space Shuttle Columbia breaks up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing the entire crew. The cause of the accident is said to be damage to the outer heat-shielding layer caused by a piece of thermal insulation of the oxygen tank falling on it during the launch of the ship.
  • August 22, 2003: The prototype of Brazil’s first VLS-V03 rocket explodes during testing at the Alcantara launch site, killing 21 people.
  • October 4, 2004: Scaled Composites, a private company, receives the $10 million Ansari X Prize for repeat flights on its reusable manned spacecraft, SpaceShipOne. In the same year, Virgin Group owner Richard Branson bought the rights to their development from Scaled Composites and established his own space company, Virgin Galactic.
  • October 22, 2008: Indian lunar probe Chandrayaan-1 detects traces of water ice on the Moon.
  • July 8, 2011: The last and 135th launch of the shuttle Atlantis. After that, the Space Shuttle program was closed, and the shuttles were on display in museums.
  • August 6, 2012: NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory robotic probe successfully lands the Curiosity rover on Mars at Gale Crater to investigate the habitability of Mars.
  • December 22, 2015: First successful return and landing of the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. This opened up the possibility of reusing the first stage and reducing the launch cost.
  • October 20, 2018: ESA and JAXA are sending a joint BepiColombo mission to Mercury. The research vehicle is expected to reach the planet in 2025.
  • March 2019: US President Donald Trump announces the launch of NASA’s new Artemis lunar program. The main goal is to land astronauts on the Moon by 2025 and create an orbital lunar station and a lunar base for subsequent flights to Mars.
  • On May 24, 2019, SpaceX Falcon 9 FT sent the first batch of 60 Starlink telecommunications satellites to LEO to deploy a global satellite Internet network.
  • November 16, 2020, First private orbital mission with astronauts. The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle launches the Crew Dragon manned spacecraft into orbit, carrying 4 astronauts to the ISS.
  • July 20, 2021. Blue Origin conducts the first suborbital flight with tourists aboard the New Shepard rocket. It is noteworthy that a week earlier, the same flight was carried out by Virgin Galactic. However, the VSS Unity, unlike the New Shepard, did not reach the Karman Line, although both passengers spent several minutes in zero gravity during both flights.
  • November 24, 2021. The DART project launches an unmanned controlled spacecraft to the binary near-Earth asteroid Didim to collide with its Dimorph component. It is expected that DART will change the trajectory of a celestial body, and thus in the future, humanity will be able to protect the planet from a collision with asteroids.
  • December 5, 2021. An ESA Ariane 5 rocket launches the James Webb telescope to the Earth-Moon Lagrange point. A joint project between NASA, ESA, and CSA aims to explore deep space and exoplanets.

So, this is the space exploration timeline by Orbital Today. Correct us if we missed something important! The human space exploration timeline seems promising, and we’re excited to witness many upcoming events. To be continued! 

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