Humans in orbit

The soviets had a head start in the race to put humans in space—their rockets were powerful enough to launch comparatively massive satellites, while even the largest American rockets could only put a few pounds in orbit. Much of the challenge lay in how to bring an astronaut or cosmonaut home, and both countries carried out successful and unsuccessful missions with animals to test shielding and reentry procedures.

Again, the soviets worked under a veil of secrecy, selecting an elite group of potential cosmonauts from whom Yuri Gagarin was eventually picked. The United states was caught by surprise when Moscow announced Gagarin's flight on April 12, 1961 (a considerable risk, since Gagarin was still in orbit at the time, and was nearly killed during reentry). A month later, Alan shepard

MAN iN space

Yuri Gagarin (19341968) completed a single orbit of the Earth in 108 minutes aboard Vostok 1. He was killed in a plane crash while training for a return to space aboard Soyuz 3.

sergei korolev

Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (1907-1966) was the mastermind of the early Soviet space program. After working on liquid-fueled rockets during the 1930s, he was imprisoned in 1938. Released after World War II, he was put in charge of the rocket program. He was planning a Soviet lunar mission before his death during a routine operation.

became the first American in space during a brief suborbital flight, but it was another nine months before John Glenn finally reached orbit.

Even before this, President Kennedy had announced the next leg of the race, vowing that the United states would put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. This new challenge was to push both sides to the limit. The Us launched the new two-man Gemini program, which would rehearse many of the techniques needed for a successful lunar mission. The soviets, meanwhile, suffered a series of setbacks that eventually pushed them out of the race altogether.

mercury seven

The Mercury Seven astronauts were hailed as heroes even before the first launch. Early suggestions that women might be better suited to spaceflight were ignored for political reasons.


saturn v

Still the most powerful launch vehicle ever built, the Saturn V stood 360 ft (110 m) tall and used three stages to propel the Apollo spacecraft toward the Moon.

apollo moon landings

Apollo 11 Landed July 20, 1969 in the Mare Tranquillitatis. Neil Armstrong became the first human on the Moon, stepping down from the lunar module Eagle.

Apollo 12 Landed November 19, 1969 in the Oceanus Procellarum, allowing the astronauts to inspect the nearby Surveyor 3 probe, which had been on the Moon for two-and-a-half years.

Apollo 14 Landed February 5, 1971 in the Fra Mauro region. The mission was commanded by Alan Shepard, who had been the first American in space.


Apollo 15 Landed July 30, 1971 near Hadley Rille. A modified lunar module carried an electric lunar rover for the first time, extending the range of exploration.

Apollo 16 Landed April 20, 1972 near Descartes crater. The only mission to explore the lunar highland regions, it helped answer many questions.

Apollo 17 Landed December 11, 1972 in the Taurus Littrow region. The only lunar mission to carry a qualified geologist, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt.

apollo to the moon the Apollo program began disastrously, when a fire killed all three crew members of Apollo 1 during launch rehearsals in 1967. After a series of uncrewed tests and a mission to Earth orbit, however, Apollo 8 successfully completed a loop around the Moon in December 1968. After two more rehearsal missions, Apollo 11 completed a flawless flight, and the Eagle lunar module touched down in the lunar Mare tranquillitatis on July 20, 1969. Five more landers put astronauts on the Moon before the program ended in 1972.

last man

Astronaut Gene Cernan, the last Apollo astronaut to step on the Moon, salutes the US flag before his departure on December 14, 1972.

Shuttles and stations

The Apollo missions mark the outer limit of human exploration in the solar system, so far. Since the 1970s, spaceflight has focused on near-Earth orbit, with the development of space stations and reusable launch vehicles—most successfully the Space Shuttle.


This mission patch celebrates US-Soviet collaboration in the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1974.

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