Shop Windows to the Universe

Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
This picture was taken on March 6, 1969. It shows the Apollo 9 commander, James McDivitt, aboard the command module.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA

History of Human Spaceflight

It was not long after the first space satellites were launched that we succeeded in getting a human being into space. These first astronauts and cosmonauts (the Russian word for astronaut) were test pilots who were very familiar with flying in fast and dangerous planes! The first human being to travel into space was Yuri Gagarin (USSR, 1961), followed a month later by the US astronaut Alan Shepard.

Once we found out that humans could travel in space, a "space race" quickly developed between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States main interest was to land on the moon. The Soviet Union was more interested in setting endurance records and doing scientific research.

The United States was upset that the Soviets always seemed to be first in everything in the space program. Therefore, the U.S. made the goal to land on the moon...first. In 1961, President Kennedy made a famous speech in which he challenged the country to land an astronaut on the moon and safely return him to the Earth by the end of the decade. Through a sequence of human spaceflight and robotic space mission programs, including Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, the United States finally succeeded in landing the first people on the Moon in 1969 with Apollo 11!

After the United States' success of landing on the moon, the government became disinterested in the space program. Fewer missions were planned and the space program became more science-based. NASA started hiring scientists instead of fighter pilots into the astronaut program. In 1973, the first American space lab was shot into orbit, and scientific tests began to take place. Between 1973-1981, the United States scheduled only one or two human spaceflight missions.

Finally in 1981, the United States revamped their human spaceflight program with several new missions and brand new spacecraft design, the space shuttle. The space shuttle is a reusable craft the worked much like an airplane but with a lot more power. The shuttle missions have become the workhorse of NASA's space program. The space shuttle had defensive and scientific missions. One of the most significant missions included the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. Currently, the NASA human spaceflight program is primarily a scientific one.

In the meantime, the Soviets made several missions testing out new spacecraft and became the "first" to create a space station. Throughout the 1960s, the cosmonauts practiced rendevous with other human spaceflight and robotic spacecraft.

From the late 1960s to the 1980s, the Soviet program conducted scientific tests in space, including engineering stuff. In 1971, the cosmonauts spent several days aboard the first space station. The cosmonauts have continued to spend time on several space station. They've made some new records for hours in space. Lab tests were conducted on all of these space stations, and the Soviets made great strides in expanding our knowledge of space, medicine, and engineering.

Beginning in 1978, the Soviet program began to allow international astronauts onto their missions. The Soviet program continued to break ground in science with the Mir space station. And as of November of 2000, the International Space Station opened its doors to its first visitors, Russian and American!


Last modified May 10, 2004 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books on science education!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Apollo 11

Driven by a recent surge in space research, the Apollo program hoped to add to the accomplishments of the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor missions of the late 1960's. Apollo 11 was the name of the first mission...more

International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is a large space station that orbits Earth. There are astronauts and cosmonauts living onboard the ISS right now. The ISS isn't completely finished, though. New sections...more

Life Found on the ISS

Three men made the International Space Station (ISS) their home on November 2, 2000. For the next four months, Russian astronauts Yuri P. Gidzenko and Sergei K. Krikalev and American commander, William...more

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was one of the most important exploration tools of the past two decades, and will continue to serve as a great resource well into the new millennium. The HST found numerous...more

Apollo 12

Apollo 12 was launched on Nov. 14, 1969, surviving a lightning strike which temporarily shut down many systems, and arrived at the Moon three days later. Astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean descended...more

Apollo 15

Apollo 15 marked the start of a new series of missions from the Apollo space program, each capable of exploring more lunar terrain than ever before. Launched on July 26, 1971, Apollo 15 reached the Moon...more

Deep Impact Mission

NASA chose Deep Impact to be part of a special series called the Discovery Program on July 7, 1999. The Discovery program specializes in low-cost, scientific projects. In May 2001, Deep Impact was given...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF