List of space exploration milestones, 1957–1969

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A chart of selected space milestones as accomplished by the USSR and the USA.

This is a list of first achievements in spaceflight from the first artificial satellite through the Moon landing. It focuses primarily on Space Race accomplishments that led to the first manned landing on the Moon. Missions are given in order of launch date.

Miscellaneous milestones[edit]

Milestone Date Country Mission
First ICBM (used to launch Sputnik, etc.) August 1957 USSR R-7 Semyorka
First artificial satellite in Earth orbit October 1957 USSR Sputnik 1
First animal in orbit (Laika) November 1957 USSR Sputnik 2
First communications satellite (lasted 12 days)[1] December 1958 USA SCORE
First solar probe March 1960 USA Pioneer 5
First weather satellite [2] April 1960 USA TIROS-1
First object successfully recovered from orbit August 1960 USA Discoverer 13
First animals returned safely from orbit August 1960 USSR Korabl-Sputnik 2
First operational navigation satellite 1960 USA Transit
First person (and man) in space Yuri Gagarin April 1961 USSR Vostok 1
First person to land inside his spacecraft therefore completing the first complete human spaceflight. First person to manually pilot his spacecraft. Alan Shepard May 1961 USA Freedom 7
First crewed mission lasting a full day. Gherman Titov August 1961 USSR Vostok 2
First commercially useful communications satellite July 1962 USA Telstar
First simultaneous flight of crewed spacecraft. Andriyan Nikolayev and Pavel Popovich August 1962 USSR Vostok 3 and Vostok 4
First woman in space. Valentina Tereshkova June 1963 USSR Vostok 6
Longest crewed solo orbital flight. Valery Bykovsky June 1963 USSR Vostok 5
First geosynchronous satellite July 1963 USA Syncom 2
First successful rocket capable of sending a mission to land on the Moon (Saturn V) November 1967 USA Apollo 4
First human space mission to travel beyond Earth's influence. First human space mission to another celestial body. December 1968 USA Apollo 8
First human space mission that involves manned landing on another celestial body. July 1969 USA Apollo 11

Notable firsts[edit]

The Soviet space program pioneered many aspects of space exploration.

This image was recorded by astronauts as the Space Shuttle Atlantis approached the Russian space station before docking during the STS-76 mission. Sporting spindly appendages and solar panels, Mir was orbiting about 350 kilometers above New Zealand's South Island and the city of Nelson near Cook Strait.

Two days after the United States announced its intention to launch an artificial satellite, on July 31, 1956, the Soviet Union announced its intention to do the same. Sputnik 1 was launched on October 4, 1957, beating the United States and stunning people all over the world.

Robotic lunar missions[edit]

The first image ever returned from space of the Moon, by Luna 3, showed its far side
Milestone Date Country Mission
First probe to go near the Moon (5995 km), went into heliocentric orbit January 1959 USSR Luna 1
First probe to impact the Moon September 1959 USSR Luna 2
First probe to photograph the far side of the Moon October 1959 USSR Luna 3
First automated landing on the Moon, first to transmit from the Moon's surface[3] January 1966 USSR Luna 9
First probe to orbit the Moon March 1966 USSR Luna 10
First probe to land using retrorockets June 1966 USA Surveyor 1
First probe to map the Moon August 1966 USA Lunar Orbiter 1

Human-crewed missions[edit]

Milestone Date Country Mission
First person in space, first person to orbit the Earth April 1961 USSR Vostok 1
First manual control of a crewed spacecraft, first person to land inside his spacecraft therefore completing the first true complete human spaceflight May 1961 USA Freedom 7
First one-day flight August 1961 USSR Vostok 2
Two spacecraft launched into nearly intersecting orbits.
(Mistakenly reported as first rendezvous.)[4][5][6]
August 1962 USSR Vostok 3 and Vostok 4
First flight over three days long August 1962 USSR Vostok 3
First woman in space June 1963 USSR Vostok 6
First multi-person crew (3) aboard one spacecraft October 1964 USSR Voskhod 1
First spacewalk (EVA) March 1965 USSR Voskhod 2
First crewed spacecraft to change orbit March 1965 USA Gemini 3
First crewed mission over seven days long (long enough for a mission to the Moon and back) August 1965 USA Gemini 5
Two spacecraft maneuvering to close proximity under fine control.
The first rendezvous in space.[5][7]
December 1965 USA Gemini 6A
Longest flight of the decade (13 days, 18 hours) December 1965 USA Gemini 7
First docking with another spacecraft March 1966 USA Gemini 8
First crewed mission to leave Earth orbit, first to orbit the Moon, first human spaceflight mission to escape Earth's influence and first spacecraft of any type to perform Trans-Earth injection December 1968 USA Apollo 8
First docking between two crewed spacecraft in Earth orbit, also the first crew exchange in space January 1969 USSR Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5
First successful crewed flight of a spacecraft capable of landing on the Moon (Apollo Lunar Module) March 1969 USA Apollo 9
First crewed landing on the Moon July 1969 USA Apollo 11

Robotic planetary missions[edit]

Milestone Date Country Mission
First flyby of Venus (< 100,000 km), but contact was lost February 1961 USSR Venera 1
First successful flyby of Venus (less than 35,000 km) August 1962 USA Mariner 2
First Mars flyby (11,000 km) but contact was lost November 1962 USSR Mars 1
First successful Mars flyby (returned pictures) November 1964 USA Mariner 4
First impact of Venus (contact lost) November 1965 USSR Venera 3
First to enter Venus's atmosphere June 1967 USSR Venera 4
First to parachute in Venus's atmosphere, lost contact before landing. January 1969 USSR Venera 5

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Project SCORE (December 1958) broadcast a delayed relayed message and tested satellite communications.
  2. ^ Vanguard 2 returned data on the amount of cloud cover in February 1959
  3. ^ Used an airbag to survive 15 meter/second impact
  4. ^ G. Salakhutdinov, in a Russian periodical from 1990, relates the following quote :

    "The group flight ... well, a day after the launch, the first craft was over Baykanur. If the second craft were launched now with great precision, then they would turn out to be next to each other in space. And that's what was done ... The craft turned out to be 5 kilometers from each other! Well, since, with all of the secrecy, we didn't tell the whole truth, the Western experts, who hadn't figured it out, thought that our Vostok was already equipped with orbital approach equipment. As they say, a sleight of hand isn't any kind of fraud. It was more like our competitors deceived themselves all by their lonesome. Of course, we didn't shatter their illusions."
    - First Deputy Chief Designer Vasily Mishin

    -- G. Salakhutdinov, "Once more about space, interview with Academician Vasiliy Pavlovich Mishin former chief designer of rocket-space equipment" (English title), Ogenek 34 (August 18–25, 1990):4-5.
    Translation at , page 379.

  5. ^ a b The USSR's supposed rendezvous was two spacecraft launched into nearly intersecting (but not identical) orbits, but never coming closer than five kilometers. Space historians indicate that the first true rendezvous was in 1965, when Gemini 6A shifted its orbit and maneuvered to and remained within 30 cm (about 1 foot) of Gemini 7. (A rendezvous is a precursor to docking, although Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 did not dock.) For further clarification and references, see Space rendezvous.
  6. ^ Vostok 3
  7. ^ Gemini 6

External links[edit]