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Space Age

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The launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite marked the start of the Space Age.

Video of Neil Armstrong and the first step on the Moon. Apollo 11, being the first spaceflight mission that landed humans on the Moon, is one of the most significant moments in the Space Age.

The Space Age is a period encompassing the activities related to the space race, space exploration, space technology, and the cultural developments influenced by these events, beginning with the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957,[1] and continuing to the present.

This period is characterized by changes in emphasis on particular areas of space exploration and applications. Initially, the United States and the Soviet Union invested unprecedented amounts of resources in breaking records and being first to meet milestones in crewed and uncrewed exploration. The United States established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the USSR established the Kosmicheskaya programma SSSR to meet these goals. This period of competition gave way to cooperation between those nations and emphasis on scientific research and commercial applications of space-based technology.[2][3]

Eventually other nations became spacefaring. They formed organizations such as the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and the China National Space Administration (CNSA). When the USSR dissolved the Russian Federation continued their program as Roscosmos.[2][3]

In the early 2020s, some journalists have used the phrase "New Space Age" in reference to a resurgence of innovation and public interest in space exploration as well as commercial applications of low Earth orbit (LEO) and more distant destinations. New developments include the participation of billionaires in crewed space travel, including space tourism and interplanetary travel.[4][5]



Foundational developments to suborbital spaceflights

Opel RAK.1 – world's first public flight of a crewed rocket-powered plane on September 30, 1929

Some vehicles reached suborbital space much earlier than the launch of Sputnik. In June 1944, a German V-2 rocket became the first manmade object to enter space, albeit only briefly.[6] In March 1926 American rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard launched the world's first liquid fuel rocket. This was considered by some to be the start of the Space Age, although it did not reach outer space.[7]

Since Germans undertook the sub-orbital V-2 rocket flight in secrecy, it was not initially public knowledge. Also, the German launches, as well as the subsequent sounding rocket tests performed in both the United States and the Soviet Union during the late 1940s and early 1950s, were not considered significant enough to define the start of the space age because they did not reach orbit. A rocket powerful enough to reach orbit could also be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile, that could deliver a warhead to any location on Earth. Some commentators claim this is why the orbital standard is commonly used to define when the space age began.[6]

1957 to 1970s/1980s: Initiating Space Race


The Space Race was the first era of the Space Age. It was a race between the United States and the Soviet Union which began with the Soviet Union's October 4, 1957, launch of Earth's first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 during the International Geophysical Year.[8] Weighing 83.6 kg (184.3 lb) and orbiting the Earth once every 98 minutes.[8][9] The race resulted in rapid advances in rocketry, materials science, and other areas. One of the underlying motivations for the space race was military. The two nations were also in a nuclear arms race following the Second World War. Both nations made use of German missile technology and scientists from their missile program. The advantages, in aviation and rocketry, required for delivery systems were seen as necessary for national security and political superiority.[10]

The Cold War era competition between the United States and Soviet Union is one of the reasons the space age happened at that time. Since then the space age continues for the generation of scientific knowledge, the innovation and creation of markets, inspiration, and agreements between the space-faring nations.[11] Other reasons for the continuation of the space age are defending Earth from hazardous objects like asteroids and comets.[12]

Much of the technology developed for space applications has been spun off and found additional uses, such as memory foam. In 1958 the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer 1. The same year President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, commonly known as NASA.[13]

Prior to the first attempted human spaceflight, various animals were flown into outer space to identify potential detrimental effects of high g-forces in takeoff and landing, microgravity, and radiation exposure at high altitudes.[14]

The Space Race reached its peak with the Apollo program that captured the imagination of much of the world's population.[15] From 1961 to 1964, NASA’s budget was increased almost 500 percent, and the lunar landing program eventually involved some 34,000 NASA employees and 375,000 employees of industrial and university contractors. The Soviet Union proceeded tentatively with its own lunar landing program which it did not publicly acknowledge, partly due to internal debate over its necessity and the untimely death (in January 1966) of Sergey Korolev, chief engineer of the Soviet space program.[13]

The landing of Apollo 11 was watched by over 500 million people around the world and is widely recognized as one of the defining moments of the 20th century. Since then, public attention has largely moved to other areas.[16]

The last major leap of in the USSR-USA Space Race was the Skylab and Salyut programs, which established the first space stations for the U.S. and USSR in Earth orbit following termination of both countries' moon programs.[17]

1970s/1980s to 2010s: Diversification


At the conclusion of the Apollo program, crewed flights from the United States were rare, then ended while the shuttle program was getting ready to kick into gear, and the space race had been over since the Apollo-Soyuz test project of 1975, started a period of U.S.–Soviet co-operation. The Soviet Union continued using the Soyuz spacecraft.[18]

The shuttle program restored spaceflight to the U.S. following the Skylab program, but the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 marked a significant decline in crewed Shuttle launches. Following the disaster, NASA grounded all Shuttles for safety concerns until 1988.[19] During the 1990s funding for space-related programs fell sharply as the remaining structures of the now-dissolved Soviet Union disintegrated and NASA no longer had any direct competition.[20]

Since then, participation in space launches has increasingly widened to include more governments and commercial interests. Since the 1990s, the public perception of space exploration and space-related technologies has been that such endeavors are increasingly commonplace.[21]

NASA permanently grounded all U.S. Space Shuttles in 2011. NASA has since relied on Russia and SpaceX to take American astronauts to and from the International Space Station.[21][22]

2010s to present: New Space

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy reusable side boosters land in unison at Cape Canaveral Landing Zones 1 and 2 following test flight on 6 February 2018.

In the early 21st century, the Ansari X Prize competition was set up to help jump-start private spaceflight.[23] The winner, Space Ship One in 2004, became the first spaceship not funded by a government agency.[24]

Several countries now have space programs; from related technology ventures to full-fledged space programs with launch facilities.[25] There are many scientific and commercial satellites in use today, with thousands of satellites in orbit, and several countries have plans to send humans into space.[26][27] Some of the countries joining this new race are France, India, China, Israel and the United Kingdom, all of which have employed surveillance satellites. There are several other countries with less extensive space programs, including Brazil, Germany, Ukraine, and Spain.[28]

As for the United States space program, NASA is currently constructing a deep-space crew capsule named the Orion. NASA's goal with this new space capsule is to carry humans to Mars. The Orion spacecraft is due to be completed in the early 2020s. NASA is hoping that this mission will “usher in a new era of space exploration.”[28]

Another major factor affecting the current Space Age is the privatization of space flight.[29] A significant private spaceflight company is SpaceX which became the proprietor of one of world's most capable operational launch vehicle when they launched their current largest rocket, the Falcon Heavy in 2018. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, has put forward the goal of establishing a colony of one million people on Mars by 2050 and the company is developing its Starship launch vehicle to facilitate this. Since the Demo-2 mission for NASA in 2020 in which SpaceX launched astronauts for the first time to the International Space Station, the company has maintained an orbital human spaceflight capability. Blue Origin, a private company founded by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is developing rockets for use in space tourism, commercial satellite launches, and eventual missions to the Moon and beyond.[30] Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic is concentrating on launch vehicles for space tourism.[31] A spinoff company, Virgin Orbit, air-launches small satellites with their LauncherOne rocket. Another small-satellite launcher, Rocket Lab, has developed the Electron rocket and the Photon satellite bus for sending spacecraft further into the Solar System, the company also plans to introduce the larger Neutron launch vehicle in 2025.[32]

Elon Musk has the stated that the main reason he founded SpaceX is to make humanity a multiplanetary species, and cites reasons for doing it including: To ensure the long-term continuation of our species and protecting the "light of consciousness".[33][34] He also said,

You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great - and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.[35]

The Space Launch System lifts off on its maiden flight to space, then on to the Moon.

The Space Age marked a major comeback and return with the launch of NASA's Space Launch system during the Artemis 1 mission on November 16, 2022; it marked the first time a human rated spacecraft had been to the Moon in nearly 50 years, as well as the return of United States capability to get astronauts to the Moon with the Space Launch System and Orion.[36] Additional goals for the 2020s include completion of the Lunar Gateway, mankind’s first space station around the Moon, and the first crewed moon landing since the Apollo era with Artemis 3.


Date First Project Participant Country
June 20, 1944 Artificial object in outer space, i.e. beyond the Kármán line V-2 rocket MW 18014 test flight[37] – N/A Germany
October 24, 1946 Pictures from space (105 km)[38][39][40] U.S.-launched V-2 rocket from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. – N/A United States
February 20, 1947 Animals in space U.S.-launched V-2 rocket on 20 February 1947 from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.[41][42][43] - fruit flies United States
October 4, 1957 Artificial satellite Sputnik 1[44] – N/A Soviet Union
November 3, 1957[45] Animal in orbit Sputnik 2[46] Laika the dog Soviet Union
January 2, 1959 Lunar flyby, spacecraft to achieve a heliocentric orbit Luna 1[47] – N/A Soviet Union
September 12, 1959 Impact on the Lunar surface; thereby becoming the first human object to reach another celestial body Luna 2[48] – N/A Soviet Union
October 7, 1959 Pictures of the far side of the Moon, first spacecraft to use Gravity assist Luna 3[49][50] – N/A Soviet Union
January 31, 1961 Hominidae in space Mercury-Redstone 2[51] Ham (chimpanzee) United States
April 12, 1961 Human in space Vostok 1[52][53] Yuri Gagarin Soviet Union
May 5, 1961 Manual orientation of crewed spacecraft and first human space mission that landed with pilot still in spacecraft, thus the first “completed” human spaceflight by then FAI definitions[54] Freedom 7 (Mercury-Redstone 3)[55] Alan Shepard United States
December 14, 1962 Successful flyby of another planet (Venus closest approach 34,773 kilometers) Mariner 2[56] – N/A United States
March 18, 1965 Spacewalk Voskhod 2[57][58] Alexei Leonov Soviet Union
December 15, 1965 Space rendezvous Gemini 6A[59] and Gemini 7[59] Schirra, Stafford, Borman, Lovell United States
February 3, 1966 Soft landing on the Moon by a spacecraft Luna 9[60][61] – N/A Soviet Union
March 1, 1966 Human-made object to impact another planet Venera 3[62][63] – N/A Soviet Union
March 16, 1966 Orbital docking between two spacecraft Gemini 8[64] & Agena Target Vehicle[65] Neil Armstrong, David Scott United States
April 3, 1966 Artificial satellite of another celestial body (other than the Sun) Luna 10[66] – N/A Soviet Union
October 18, 1967 Telemetry from the atmosphere of another planet Venera 4[67] – N/A Soviet Union
December 21–27, 1968 Humans to orbit the Moon Apollo 8 Borman, Lovell, Anders United States
July 20, 1969 Humans land and walk on the Moon Apollo 11[68] Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin United States
December 15, 1970 Telemetry from the surface of another planet Venera 7[69] – N/A Soviet Union
April 19, 1971 Operational space station Salyut 1[70][71] – N/A Soviet Union
June 7, 1971 Resident crew Soyuz 11 (Salyut 1) Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, Viktor Patsayev Soviet Union
July 20, 1976 Pictures from the surface of Mars Viking 1[72] – N/A United States
April 12, 1981 Reusable orbital spaceship STS-1[73] Young, Crippen United States
February 19, 1986 Long-duration space station Mir[74] – N/A Soviet Union
February 14, 1990 Photograph of the whole Solar System[75] Voyager 1[76] – N/A United States
November 20, 1998 Current space station International Space Station[77] – N/A Russia
August 25, 2012 Interstellar space probe Voyager 1[78] – N/A United States
November 12, 2014 Artificial probe to soft-land on a comet (67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko)[79] Rosetta[80] – N/A European Space Agency
July 14, 2015 Space probes to explore all major planets recognized in 1981[81] New Horizons[82] – N/A United States
December 20, 2015 Vertical landing of an orbital rocket booster on a ground pad.[83] Falcon 9 flight 20[84] – N/A United States
April 8, 2016 Vertical landing of an orbital rocket booster on a floating platform at sea.[85] SpaceX CRS-8[86] – N/A United States
March 30, 2017 Relaunch and second landing of a used orbital rocket booster.[87] SES-10[88] – N/A United States
January 3, 2019 Soft landing on the lunar far side Chang'e 4[89][90] – N/A China
May 30, 2020 Human orbital spaceflight launched by a private company Crew Dragon Demo-2/Crew Demo-2/SpaceX Demo-2/Dragon Crew Demo-2[91] Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley United States
April 19, 2021 First powered controlled extraterrestrial flight by an aircraft Ingenuity as part of NASA's Mars 2020 mission – N/A United States
July 11, 2021 Commercial space tourism flight Virgin Galactic Unity 22[92] David Mackay, Michael Masucci, Sirisha Bandla, Colin Bennet, Beth Moses, Richard Branson United States
October 5, 2021 Feature-length fiction film shot in space (The Challenge) Soyuz MS-19[93] Anton Shkaplerov, Klim Shipenko, Yulia Peresild Russia
November 16, 2022 Artemis 1 launch restoring American capability to get humans to the Moon Artemis 1[94] - N/A United States

Cultural influences


Arts and architecture


The Space Age is considered to have influenced:



The Space Age also inspired musical genres:[citation needed]

See also



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