Space History

Space History

This is a work in progress. It is not a complete list!


See Pre-historic astronomy

5-8 Million BC The earliest recognisable human ancestors, Australopithecus afarensis, begins to evolve. Australopithecus afarensis
400,000 - 200,000 BC Homo sapiens (the modern human species) evolves. Eventually they migrate across the globe, presumably using the stars as a navigation aid.
50,000 BC Australia is settled by Aborigines, who become the first people to document stars in the Southern Hemisphere.
10,0000 BC Early agriculture is established, presumably using stars as a calendar.
3,500 BC Sumerians develop the earliest known writing system.
3,200 BC Newgrange Passage Tomb was built in Wales. During the winter solstice sunrise a shaft of sunlight shines through a box over the entrance, down the passage and lights up the burial chamber.  
3,000 BC Egyptian astronomers use the stars to predict the annual flooding of the Nile.  
2,500 BC Stonehenge is constructed, possibly demonstrating some basic astronomical knowledge. Stonehenge
1,700 BC Observations of Venus were recorded and reproduced 1000 years later in the Venus Tablet.
1,600 BC The Nebra sky disk is made somewhere in Europe, demonstrating Bronze-age understanding of basic astronomical principles.
1,200 BC The earliest Babylonian star catalogues.  
570-490 BC Greek mathematician Pythagoras reasons that the Earth and other planets are spheres.  
410 BC – 355 BC Greek mathematician Eudoxus of Cnidus attempts to create a mathematical explanation of the planets' movements, and introduces the astronomical globe.  
335-323 BC Greek philosopher Aristotle refines a model of the universe with Earth at the centre and everything else orbiting in perfect circles.  
310 BC – 230 BC Aristarchus of Samos becomes the first known person to suggest that the Earth orbits the Sun, but no-one takes him seriously.  
276 BC – 195 BC Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculates the circumference of the Earth.  
147-125 BC Greek astronomer Hipparchus makes numerous discoveries including prescession and the first nova. He also catalogues over 1,000 stars.  
150-100 BC The Antikythera mechanism is made, probably in Greece. The oldest known complex scientific calculator, it is designed to calculate astronomical positions. Antikythera mechanism

1 AD - 1900 AD

16th Century Representation of the Ptolemaic cosmography
c150 Ptolemy proposes a model to explain the complex motions of stars and planets, with the earth at the centre of the universe.
c1232 Simple rockets are used by Chinese military forces. Chinese Fire Arrow
c1241 Mongols bring rocket weaponry to Europe. Arab writings later describe rockets being used by Mongol invaders to capture the city of Baghdad.
c1300 - c1500 Military rockets become established throughout Europe.
1543 Nicolaus Copernicus publishes De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), the first major work describing the Sun at the centre of the universe. Nicolaus Copernicus
1572 Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe observes a "new star" (supernova) and reasons that it must exist outside the solar system. Tycho sets a new standard in celestial observations which last until his death in 1601. He is the last major astronomer to work without a telescope.
1605 Johannes Kepler completes Astronomia nova (New Astronomy), a book that includes his "first law" of planetary motion, explaining that the planets move in an elliptical orbit. The book is published in 1609.
1608 Hans Lippershey creates the first known design of a telescope. Whether he invented it or copied the idea from someone else is unclear.  
1609-10 Galileo Galilei uses the telescope to observe three moons orbiting Jupiter, proving that other orbital systems exist independent of earth. Galileo Galilei
  Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727)
1812 Military rockets come to the New World.

20th Century

Albert Einstein
1905 Albert Einstein publishes his theory of special relativity.
1915 Einstein completes his theory of general relativity.
1919 American Robert H. Goddard publishes a paper titled A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, describing ideas to build space rockets.
1922 Russia cosmologist Alexander Friedmann proposes that the universe is expanding, an idea that later becomes known as the Big Bang Theory. Robert H. Goddard
1923 Rumanian-born Hermann Oberth publishes the book The Rocket into Interplanetary Space.
1925 American astronomer Edwin Hubble proves that the Milky Way is only one galaxy in a universe that includes many other distant galaxies.
1926 Goddard launches the world's first successful liquid-fuelled rocket flight. The rocket flies about 46 metres.
1934 German Wernher von Braun successfully launches the first A2 rocket, powered by ethanol and liquid oxygen.
1942 The first A4 rocket is launched. Later known as the V2, this infamous rocket marks the beginning of modern rocket science. V2 Rocket
1944 V2 rockets are deployed against London, but too late to affect the ultimate outcome of the war.
1945 Wernher von Braun and his team of scientists narrowly escape execution by Nazis, and are taken by American forces.
1946-1952 Wernher von Braun, now based at White Sands, USA, helps America build and launch V2 rockets. The rockets carry scientific instruments instead of explosives.  
1949 The Joint Long Range Proving Ground is established at Cape Canaveral, Fla, USA.  
1957 Russia launches Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite. Sputnik I
1958 America's first satellite, Explorer I, launches aboard a Jupiter C rocket.
1958 NASA is established. Project Mercury becomes the United States' first manned space program.
1958 The US mission Explorer III discovers the Earth's radiation belt.
1959 In January Russia launches Luna 1, the first lunar flyby. In September Luna 2 is the first spacecraft to impact the surface of the Moon, and in October Lunar 3 returns the first images of the Moon's far side.  
1960? Wernher von Braun's team is transferred to NASA along with the US Army Ballistic Missile Agency, to form the core of NASA's space program.  
1961 Russian Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space, orbiting the Earth once.

Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space with a 15-minute flight.
Yuri Gagarin
1961 President Kennedy announces the goal of developing a manned lunar landing program.
1962 The USA's Mariner 2 arrives at Venus. From space it measures the surface temperature at around 425°C.
1965 Gemini III, the first manned flight of the Gemini program, orbits the Earth three times.
1965 Gemini IV includes America's first extravehicular activity (EVA), Ed White's 22-minute "space walk". Ed White Spacewalk
1966 Gemini VIII accomplishes the first docking with another space vehicle (an unmanned Agena stage). A malfunction then necessitates the first emergency landing of a manned U.S. space mission.

Surveyor 1
is the first successful soft-landing on the Moon, returning photos and data.
1966 Luna 9 lands on the Moon and returns the first photographs from the surface.
1967 The USA's Mariner 4 flies past Mars, returning 22 close-up photos of a cratered surface. Mariner IV photo of Mars
1967 Russia's Venera 4 becomes the first probe to enter the atmosphere of Venus and return data (it is crushed by the pressure before reaching the surface).

The USA's Mariner 5 also reaches and studies Venus.
1968 Apollo 7.
Saturn V Rocket
  Apollo 8 completes the first manned lunar fly-around.
1969 Apollo 9.
  Apollo 10 tests the lunar landing module.
  Apollo 11 makes the first manned lunar landing at the Sea of Tranquility.
Buzz Aldrin - Apollo 11
  Apollo 12 lands on the Moon at Oceanus Procellarum.
1970 Apollo 13 strikes trouble and immortalizes the phrase "Houston, we have a problem". The crew is returned safely to Earth using the Lunar Module as a lifeboat.
1971 Apollo 14 lands on the Moon in the Fra Mauro highlands.

Apollo 15
lands on the Moon at Hadley-Apennine.

Russia's Mars 2 crashed-lands on Mars, leaving the first human artifact on the Martian surface.
1972 Apollo 16 lands on the Moon at Descartes crater.

Apollo 17
, the last of the Apollo lunar missions, lands on the Moon at Taurus-Littrow.

Russia's Venera 8 successfully lands on Venus and transmits data for 50 minutes before dying.
1973 The Skylab module is successfully launched into orbit, becoming the first "space station". It is manned for 171 days before being abandoned and eventually re-entered the Earth's atmosphere in 1979.

The USA's Pioneer 10 flies past Jupiter, returning images and data.
1974 Pioneer 11 flies past Jupiter, returning more images and data.
1975 American and Soviet craft dock in space as part of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project. Viking 2 on Mars
1976 Viking 1 and Viking 2 arrive at Mars and successfully place landers on the surface.
1979 Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 fly by Jupiter. Voyager 2 at Jupiter
1980 Voyager 1 flies by Saturn.
1981 Space Shuttle Columbia completes the first mission of NASA's new Space Shuttle program.

Voyager 2
flies by Saturn.
Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1)

Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrates 73 seconds into its flight, killing all on board.

Voyager 2
flies by Uranus.

Mir Space Station is launched.

1989 Voyager 2 flies by Neptune. Hubble Space Telescope
1990 Hubble Space Telescope is launched.
1996 Mars Global Surveyor achieves orbit around Mars.
1997 Mars Pathfinder lands on Mars. Mars Pathfinder

21st Century

2001 Mir Space Station is retired and de-orbited to burn up in the atmosphere.  
2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates over Texas, killing all on board.  
2004 The Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit & Opportunity) land on Mars. mars Exploration Rover
2008 Phoenix Mars Lander lands on Mars.