History of famous firsts in space
In its first manned rocket launch, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on May 30 is set to bring NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. The spaceflight, taking off from the same launch pad used to bring people to the moon, represents other milestones, as well: It's the first time a private company is sending people to space; it's also the first space launch since 2011 to leave from the United States. The launch was scheduled for May 27 but was rescheduled because of rain.
In honor of this historic moment, Stacker used a combination of news, government, and other archival reports to curate a gallery of 50 other historic firsts in space. Although the idea of galaxies beyond the Earth’s atmosphere has long entranced human beings, it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that space flight became a reality, enabling humans to see beyond the Earth—and, in the case of the first photographs taken of the Earth—to see the Earth itself.
We tend to think of the middle-to-end of the 20th century as a time when many of the firsts in space occurred, and this is for good reason. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was a major factor influencing the proliferation of space activity. Both countries competed for dominance in outer space, and many of the firsts achieved in space were due to the desire of both countries to be “the first.” When the Cold War ebbed late in the century, there was less incentive for either country to out-rocket the other. As we can see with SpaceX, however, humans’ fascination with space and desire to explore the cosmos is as strong as ever.
Keep reading for a comprehensive retrospective of famous firsts in space, including the United Kingdom’s first astronaut, the first insect to visit space, and the planet’s first space tourist.
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1902: First space movie
The first space movie is widely considered to be 1902’s “Le Voyage dans la Lune.” The film depicts a journey to the moon by a group of astronomers.
1947: First insects in space
The first insects to travel to space aboard a manmade ship made the journey in 1947. A group of fruit flies aboard the American V-2 rocket reached an altitude of 108 kilometers and made it back into the Earth’s orbit alive.
1948: First monkey sent to space
The first monkey was sent to space in 1948, a male rhesus monkey named Albert. Sadly, he did not reach space (which is officially 100 kilometers from the Earth's surface), and he died at some point in the journey. He was followed a year later by a monkey named Albert II, who made it to space, but did not make it back alive.
[Pictured: Monkey Baker with a Model Jupiter Vehicle on May 29, 1959.]
1958: First American man-in-space program
The United States’ first man-in-space program was launched in 1958. The so-called Project Mercury aimed to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth and research man’s ability to function in space. The project made six manned flights between 1961 and 1963.
1959: America’s first astronauts
The first American astronauts were introduced in 1959. Members of the group were finalists from a competitive vetting process than began with over 500 candidates. These “Original Seven” were eventually called the “Mercury Seven” after the name of the American space project—the Mercury Program.
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1961: First person in space
The Soviet Union beat the United States in the space race in 1961 by sending the world’s first person to space. Yuri Gagarin became an international celebrity after his return and toured the world promoting his achievement on behalf of the Soviets.
1961: First American in space
Alan Shepard became the first American in space less than a month after Soviet Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. Shepard’s May 5 journey lasted just over 15 minutes.
1961: First lengthy space flight
In contrast to the much-shorter flights that had occurred earlier that year, the Soviet astronaut Gherman S. Titov’s August 1961 flight lasted more than 25 hours. Titov thus also became the first person to sleep in space—and the first person to experience “space sickness.”
1962: First American orbits the Earth
John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. Glenn was a member of the Mercury 7, and circled the globe three times in less than five hours, concluding with a splashdown and recovery in the Atlantic Ocean.2018 All rights reserved.