Space Travel


Girl using telescope


On August 19, 1960, the Soviet spacecraft Korabyl-Sputnik 2 carried two dogs (named Belka (Squirrel) and Strelka (Little Arrow)) into space and returned them safely to Earth.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong left the Lunar Module Eagle and became the first human to set foot on the Moon. He was soon followed by his fellow astronaut, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. This was the result of an intensive United States effort which had actually been inspired by the achievements in space of the Soviet Union. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite. Later in 1957, Sputnik II was launched carrying Laika, a dog which became the first Earth creature to orbit the Earth. In 1961, the first human to pilot a spacecraft, Yuri Gagarin, was launched by the Soviet Union aboard Vostok I.

Launch of Vostok 1
Launch of Vostok 1
President Kennedy
The United States responded to the challenge with rapid advances in its space program. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard piloted the first manned American spacecraft. Twenty days after this event, President John F. Kennedy announced as a national goal the landing of an American astronaut on the Moon. He wanted to accomplish this by the end of the 1960s. NASA accepted the challenge, and with the launch of Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962, John Glenn took the first step towards that goal. Glenn orbited the Earth three times in this first effort.

President Kennedy's speeches on the Apollo program

"This Nation should commit itself..."

"We choose to go to the Moon..."

These movies are large, but worth the wait!

In June of 1963, a Soviet mission involved two spacecraft. In one, Valery Bykovsky set an endurance record when he completed a five day mission while Valentina Tereshkova piloted Vostok 6 and became the first woman in space. In March of 1965, Alexei Leonov of the Soviet Union left his spacecraft, Voskhod 2, to become the first person to walk in space. On the third of June in the same year, Edward White II became the first American to walk in space.

Cosmonaut Valetina Tereshkova enters Vostok 6
Valentina Tereshkova enters Vostok 6
Apollo 1
The Apollo 1 capsule
Tragedy followed success, though, for both the Soviet Union and the United States. On January 27, 1967, the cockpit of Apollo 1 caught fire during a practice countdown. United States astronauts Edward White II, Virgil Grissom, and Roger Chaffee died in the fire. That same year, the Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed when his spacecraft, Soyuz 1, crashed upon re-entry. Soyuz 11 cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev were also killed in re-entry in 1971. They were returning to Earth after successfully manning Salyut 1, the first Soviet space station.

Meanwhile, unmanned probes such as Orbiter, Ranger, and Surveyor were searching out possible landing sites for the Apollo lunar modules. In 1968 on December 21, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders carried out the first Apollo mission which orbited the Moon. On Apollo 9 and Apollo 10 missions, further testing of the lunar landing craft were carried out. This paved the way for the success of Apollo 11 in landing on the lunar surface.

Apollo orbits the Moon
Apollo orbits the Moon
Apollo 15 Lunar Rover
Apollo 15 Lunar Rover
Apollo 12 was also successful in its mission to the Moon. The mission of Apollo 13, though, was a near disaster as an explosion damaged the craft on the way to the Moon. The mission had to be aborted and re-entry was achieved only with great difficulty. Apollo 14 successfully completed its mission and returned to the Earth with 43.5 kilograms of lunar rocks and soil. The lunar module of Apollo 15 landed on the Moon on July 30, 1971 and the astronauts explored the surface riding in the first lunar rover. Apollo 16 also brought back a large number of lunar rocks and soil samples. The final and longest Apollo mission, Apollo 17, was launched on December 7, 1972. During the 12 day, 13 hour, 51 minute mission, the lunar astronauts set a record for the most time spent outside the lunar module when they explored the Moon for a total of 22 hours and 4 minutes.

The Soviet Union put a total of seven space stations in orbit between 1971 and 1982. In 1973, the United States launched Skylab, also a space station. This satellite was designed so that astronauts could live and work in orbit for prolonged periods of time. The space station not only served as a laboratory and living space for astronauts, but also as a support base for other spacecraft which had the ability to dock with the station. In 1986, the Soviet Union launched the Space Station Mir. During its 15 year lifetime, it was the largest space station to orbit the Earth.

STS-1 landing
Columbia lands after its first flight
In 1981, the United States launched the Space Shuttle Columbia, the first reusable manned spacecraft. It was piloted by Robert Crippen and commanded by John Young. In June of 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space when she rode aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. In August of that same year, Guion Bluford became the first black American to enter space. During a Challenger mission in 1984, Kathryn Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space while in 1986, the Space Shuttle Columbia carried the first Hispanic American, Franklin Chang-Diaz, into orbit. Unfortunately, the United States' space program suffered another tragedy in 1986. January 28th was the launch date of the twenty-fifth shuttle mission. Seventy-three seconds after launch, Challenger exploded. All seven astronauts, including the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, were killed. The Space Shuttle Endeavour carried a very unique crew into orbit in 1992. The crew not only included Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to orbit in space, but it also included the first married couple to orbit together, Mark Lee and Jan Davis, along with the first Japanese astronaut, Mamoru Mohri.

Apollo 11
Space Station Mir
Space Shuttle


Show me the Level 1 version of this page.

The StarChild site is a service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA/GSFC.

StarChild Authors: The StarChild Team
StarChild Graphics & Music: Acknowledgments
StarChild Project Leader: Dr. Laura A. Whitlock
Responsible NASA Official: Phil Newman

DVD Table of Contents
Educator's Index