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Spaceflight History

Exploring Our World and Others

The Lure of the Unknown has drawn mankind into uncharted oceans, untamed the wilderness and now to the secrets of the universe. This section gives you links to a variety of places for learning the history of manned spaceflight and exploration. When you are ready, click back to return to the Space Center or click below to explore again. Return to Space Exploration Facts.

Main Space Exploration Spaceflight Moon Landings
Space Telescopes Space Probes

U.S. Manned Spaceflight

Friendship 7 Mercury Capsule

The history of space exploration started with the invention of gunpowder over 10 centuries ago by Chinese inventors. Rockets were used for celebrations and military purposes. Modern rocketry started early in the 1900's and by the 1950's experimenters were beginning to develop larger and more powerful rocket designs.

With the orbit of a satellite named "Sputnik" by Russia in 1958, the space age had begun. The US effort faltered at first but with a space program called "Mercury" began to progress rapidly. With the political goal of landing a man on the moon hundreds of scientists, technicians and researchers launched the Mercury flights (left) into orbit. The first US astronaut to orbit the earth in a Mercury capsule was John Glenn.

As the space program continued the US boosted two-man capsules into orbit during the Gemini program and finally landed Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969.

Gemini Gemini
This Gemini capsule at right was about the size of a van. Note in the picture the dark blue line between the Earth and the black of space. This is how thin our atmosphere is compared to our globe. The dark shape on the bottom is the window outline of another Gemini capsule through which the picture was taken.

Several Gemini flights tested the technology for docking, maneuvering in space and other techniques needed to send a spacecraft to the moon. See the next section for Landing on the Moon. and the Apollo program.

Skylab Skylab
The Skylab mission tested new technology and studied the effects of microgravity, often called "being weightless." Skylab was eventually abandoned and allowed to burn up in Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

Shuttle Launch Space Shuttle
With political motivation declining, NASA was forced to reduce the scope of its missions and developed the Space Shuttle. This reusable launch vehicle has been successful in space medicine research, launching and retrieving satellites, and other technology. Some Shuttle flights conducted experiments with the Russian space station MIR.

The Shuttle continues to be useful in the construction of the International Space Station. Over the next five years it will take a number of flights and an international cooperative effort to build and maintain the station.

Further exploration of the solar system continued with unmanned spacecraft and orbiting satellites. See more on the Space Probes page.


International Space Station International Space Station
In this photo the first two modules of the International Space Station are ready for the next module. The station when completed will be over 3 football fields long and have a permanent crew. It is hoped that this project will lead to further cooperative efforts among nations and future exploration of the solar system.

The project requires many hours of "space walks" where astronauts leave the Shuttle to attach modules, solar panels, robot arms, and connecting trusses. The ISS has had a full-time crew since this image was taken. See below for the progress of the construction and links for more information.

Progress of the International Space Station
ISS, September 2000 ISS, December 2000
September, 2000 December, 2000
ISS, August 2001 ISS, April 2002
August, 2001 April, 2002

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Go to NASA/JPL Basics of Spaceflight Main page for International Space Station
Graphics of All ISS Modules
ISS Annimated Tour
Basics of Spaceflight
History of Spaceflight

How does NASA get funding for their programs?

The United States Congress has control of the money needed to pay for spaceflights, sending space probes, studying the Earth through satellites and other programs. Click here to find out more: Funding Science and NASA.

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