History of spaceflight


The number of spacewalks required to construct the ISS dwarfed the then existing experience base for this activity, a hurdle called the "Wall of EVA."[1]

Orbital human spaceflight (beyond Kármán line)
Program Years Flights First Crewed Flight
Vostok 1961-1963 6 Vostok 1
Mercury 1962-1963 4[a] Mercury-Atlas 6
Voskhod 1964-1965 2 Voskhod 1
Gemini 1965-1966 10 Gemini 3
Soyuz 1967–present 141[b] Soyuz 1
Apollo 1968-1972 11[c] Apollo 7
Skylab 1973-1974 3 Skylab 2
Apollo-Soyuz 1975 1[d] Apollo-Soyuz
Space Shuttle 1981-2011 135[e] STS-1
Shenzhou 2003–present 6 Shenzhou 5
Crew Dragon 2020–present 3 Demo-2
Suborbital human spaceflight
Program Year Flights
Mercury 1961 2 Mercury 3
X-15 1963 2 Flight 90
Soyuz 18a 1975 1 Soyuz 18a
SpaceShipOne 2004 3 Flight 15P
SpaceShipTwo 2018–present 3 VP03

Spaceflight began in the 20th century following theoretical and practical breakthroughs by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert H. Goddard, and Hermann Oberth. First successful large-scale rocket programs were initiated in the 1920s Germany by Fritz von Opel and Max Valier, and eventually in Nazi Germany by Wernher von Braun.[2] The Soviet Union took the lead in the post-war Space Race, launching the first satellite,[3] the first man[4] and the first woman[5] into orbit. The United States caught up with, and then passed, their Soviet rivals during the mid-1960s, landing the first man on the Moon in 1969. In the same period, France, the United Kingdom, Japan and China were concurrently developing more limited launch capabilities.

Following the end of the Space Race, spaceflight has been characterized by greater international co-operation, cheaper access to low Earth orbit and an expansion of commercial ventures. Interplanetary probes have visited all of the planets in the Solar System, and humans have remained in orbit for long periods aboard space stations such as Mir and the ISS. Most recently, China has emerged as the third nation with the capability to launch independent crewed missions, whilst operators in the commercial sector have developed re-usable booster systems and craft launched from airborne platforms.

In 2020, SpaceX became the first commercial operator to successfully launch a crewed mission to the International Space Station with Crew Dragon Demo-2, whose name vary depending on the organization.


Opel RAK.1 - World's first public flight of a manned rocket-powered plane on September 30, 1929
Description of a space station in Hermann Noordung's The Problem of Space Travel (1929).

At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a burst of scientific investigation into interplanetary travel, inspired by fiction by writers such as Jules Verne (From the Earth to the Moon, Around the Moon) and H.G. Wells (The First Men in the Moon, The War of the Worlds).

The first realistic proposal of spaceflight goes back to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. His most famous work, "Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами" (Issledovanie mirovikh prostranstv reaktivnimi priborami, or The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices), was published in 1903, but this theoretical work was not widely influential outside Russia.[6]

Spaceflight became an engineering possibility with the work of Robert H. Goddard's publication in 1919 of his paper "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes", where his application of the de Laval nozzle to liquid fuel rockets gave sufficient power for interplanetary travel to become possible. This paper was highly influential on Hermann Oberth and Wernher Von Braun, later key players in spaceflight.

Fritz von Opel was instrumental in popularizing rockets as means of propulsion for vehicles. In the 1920s, he initiated together with Max Valier, co-founder of the "Verein für Raumschiffahrt", the world's first rocket program, Opel-RAK, leading to speed records for automobiles, rail vehicles and the first manned rocket-powered flight in September of 1929.[7] [8] Months earlier in 1928, one of his rocket-powered prototypes, the Opel RAK2, reached piloted by von Opel himself at the AVUS speedway in Berlin a record speed of 238 km/h, watched by 3000 spectators and world media, among them Fritz Lang, director of Metropolis and Woman in the Moon, world boxing champion Max Schmeling and many more sports and show business celebrities. A world record for rail vehicles was reached with RAK3 and a top speed of 256 km/h.[9] After these successes, von Opel piloted the world's first public rocket-powered flight using Opel RAK.1, a rocket plane designed by Julius Hatry.[10] World media reported on these efforts, including UNIVERSAL Newsreel of the US, causing as "Raketen-Rummel" or "Rocket Rumble" immense global public excitement, and in particular in Germany, where inter alia Wernher von Braun was highly influenced.[11] The Great Depression led to an end of the Opel-RAK program, but Max Valier continued the efforts. After switching from solid-fuel to liquid-fuel rockets, he died while testing and is considered the first fatality of the dawning space age.

In 1929, the Slovene officer Hermann Noordung was the first to imagine a complete space station in his book The Problem of Space Travel.[12][13]

The first rocket to reach space was a German V-2 rocket, on a vertical test flight in June 1944.[14] After the war ended, the research and development branch of the (British) Ordinance Office organised Operation Backfire which, in October 1945, assembled enough V-2 missiles and supporting components to enable the launch of three (possibly four, depending on source consulted) of them from a site near Cuxhaven in northern Germany. Although these launches were inclined and the rockets didn't achieve the altitude necessary to be regarded as sub-orbital spaceflight, the Backfire report remains the most extensive technical documentation of the rocket, including all support procedures, tailored vehicles and fuel composition.[15]

Subsequently, the British Interplanetary Society proposed an enlarged man-carrying version of the V-2 called Megaroc. The plan, written in 1946, envisaged a three-year development programme culminating in the launch of test pilot Eric Brown on a sub-orbital mission in 1949.[16][17]

The decision by the Ministry of Supply under Attlee's government to concentrate on research into nuclear power generation and sub-sonic passenger jet aircraft over supersonic atmospheric flight and spaceflight delayed the introduction of both of the latter, although only by a year in the case of supersonic flight, as the data from the Miles M.52 was handed to Bell Aircraft.

Space Race

About three decades after the manned Opel RAK flights, and a decade after the Megaroc proposal, true orbital space flight, both uncrewed and crewed, was developed by the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, in a competition dubbed the Space Race.

First artificial satellite

A replica of Sputnik 1 on display.

The race began in 1957, when both the US and the USSR made statements announcing they planned to launch artificial satellites during the 18 month long International Geophysical Year of July 1957 to December 1958. On July 29, 1957, the US announced a planned launch of the Vanguard by the spring of 1958, and on July 31, the USSR announced it would launch a satellite in the fall of 1957.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite of Earth in the history of mankind.

On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the second satellite, Sputnik 2, and the first to carry a living animal, a dog named Laika. Sputnik 3 was launched on May 15, 1958, and carried a large array of instruments for geophysical research and provided data on pressure and composition of the upper atmosphere, concentration of charged particles, photons in cosmic rays, heavy nuclei in cosmic rays, magnetic and electrostatic fields, and meteoric particles.

After a series of failures with the program, the US succeeded with Explorer 1, which became the first US satellite in space, on February 1, 1958. This carried scientific instrumentation and detected the theorized Van Allen radiation belt.

The US public shock over Sputnik 1 became known as the Sputnik crisis. On July 29, 1958, the US Congress passed legislation turning the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with responsibility for the nation's civilian space programs. In 1959, NASA began Project Mercury to launch single-man capsules into Earth orbit and chose a corps of seven astronauts introduced as the Mercury Seven.

First man in space

On April 12, 1961, the USSR opened the era of crewed spaceflight, with the flight of the first cosmonaut (Russian name for space travelers), Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin's flight, part of the Soviet Vostok space exploration program, took 108 minutes and consisted of a single orbit of the Earth.

On August 7, 1961, Gherman Titov, another Soviet cosmonaut, became the second man in orbit during his Vostok 2 mission.

By June 16, 1963, the Union launched a total of six Vostok cosmonauts, two pairs of them flying concurrently, and accumulating a total of 260 cosmonaut-orbits and just over sixteen cosmonaut-days in space.

On May 5, 1961, the US launched its first suborbital Mercury astronaut, Alan Shepard, in the Freedom 7 capsule. Unlike Gagarin, Shepard manually controlled his spacecraft's attitude and landed inside it thus technically making Freedom 7 the first complete human spaceflight by FAI definitions.[18]

First woman in space

The first woman in space was former civilian parachutist Valentina Tereshkova, who entered orbit on June 16, 1963, aboard the Soviet mission Vostok 6. The chief Soviet spacecraft designer, Sergey Korolyov, conceived of the idea to recruit a female cosmonaut corps and launch two women concurrently on Vostok 5/6. However, his plan was changed to launch a male first in Vostok 5, followed shortly afterward by Tereshkova. The then first secretary of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, spoke to Tereshkova by radio during her flight.[19]

On November 3, 1963, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev, who had previously flown on Vostok 3.[20] On June 8, 1964, she gave birth to the first child conceived by two space travelers.[21] The couple divorced in 1982, and Tereshkova went on to become a prominent member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The second woman to fly to space was aviator Svetlana Savitskaya, aboard Soyuz T-7 on August 18, 1982.[22]

Competition develops

Khrushchev pressured Korolyov to quickly produce greater space achievements in competition with the announced Gemini and Apollo plans. Rather than allowing him to develop his plans for a crewed Soyuz spacecraft, he was forced to make modifications to squeeze two or three men into the Vostok capsule, calling the result Voskhod. Only two of these were launched. Voskhod 1 was the first spacecraft with a crew of three, who could not wear space suits because of size and weight constrictions. Alexei Leonov made the first spacewalk when he left the Voskhod 2 on March 8, 1965. He was almost lost in space when he had extreme difficulty fitting his inflated space suit back into the cabin through an airlock, and a landing error forced him and his crewmate to be lost in dangerous woods for hours before being found by the recovery crew.

The start of crewed Gemini missions was delayed a year later than NASA had planned, but ten largely successful missions were launched in 1965 and 1966, allowing the US to overtake the Soviet lead by achieving space rendezvous (Gemini 6A) and docking (Gemini 8) of two vehicles, long duration flights of eight days (Gemini 5) and fourteen days (Gemini 7), and demonstrating the use of extra-vehicular activity to do useful work outside a spacecraft (Gemini 12).

The USSR made no crewed flights during this period but continued to develop its Soyuz craft and secretly accepted Kennedy's implicit lunar challenge, designing Soyuz variants for lunar orbit and landing. They also attempted to develop the N1, a large, crewed Moon-capable launch vehicle similar to the US Saturn V.

As both nations rushed to get their new spacecraft flying with men, the intensity of the competition caught up to them in early 1967, when they suffered their first crew fatalities. On January 27, the entire crew of Apollo 1, "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, were killed by suffocation in a fire that swept through their cabin during a ground test approximately one month before their planned launch. On April 24, the single pilot of Soyuz 1, Vladimir Komarov, was killed in a crash when his landing parachutes tangled, after a mission cut short by electrical and control system problems. Both accidents were determined to be caused by design defects in the spacecraft, which were corrected before crewed flights resumed.

Neil Armstrong taking the first step onto the Moon.
Buzz Aldrin poses on the Moon, allowing Neil Armstrong to photograph both of them using the visor's reflection.

The US conducted the first crewed spaceflight to leave earth orbit and orbit the Moon on December 21, 1968 with the Apollo 8 space mission. Later on they succeeded in achieving President Kennedy's goal on July 20, 1969, with the landing of Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on the Moon. Six such successful landings were achieved through 1972, with one failure on Apollo 13.

The N1 rocket suffered four catastrophic uncrewed launch failures between 1969 and 1972, and the Soviet government officially discontinued its crewed lunar program on June 24, 1974, when Valentin Glushko succeeded Korolyov as General Spacecraft Designer.[23]

Both nations went on to fly relatively small, non-permanent crewed space laboratories Salyut and Skylab, using their Soyuz and Apollo craft as shuttles. The US launched only one Skylab, but the USSR launched a total of seven "Salyuts", three of which were secretly Almaz military crewed reconnaissance stations, which carried "defensive" cannons. Crewed reconnaissance stations were found to be a bad idea since uncrewed satellites could do the job much more cost-effectively. The United States Air Force had planned a crewed reconnaissance station, the Manned Orbital Laboratory, which was cancelled in 1969. The Soviets cancelled Almaz in 1978.

In a season of detente, the two competitors declared an end to the race and shook hands (literally) on July 17, 1975, with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, where the two craft docked, and the crews exchanged visits.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP, 1975), first docking between the two competitor states, testing shared docking systems enabling future cooperation programs away from the competition.[24]
Space Shuttle (US) docked to Mir (USSR/Russia) (1995), both products of the ending competition, joined in the Shuttle-Mir program (1993-1998) which facilitated the ongoing International Space Station programme.

By programs

United States

Until the 21st century, space programs of the United States were exclusively operated by government agencies. Since 21st century, several aerospace companies are trying to dominate the space industry, with SpaceX being the most successful spaceflight company of all time.


Project Mercury

Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States, running from 1958 through 1963. Its goal was to put a man into Earth orbit and return him safely, ideally before the Soviet Union. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth on February 20, 1962 aboard the Mercury-Atlas 6.[25]

Project Gemini
The Gemini 8 approaches the docking collar of the Agena target vehicle.

Project Gemini was NASA's second human spaceflight program. The program ran from 1961 to 1966. The program pioneered the orbital maneuvers required for space rendezvous.[26] Ed White became the first American to make an extravehicular activity (EVA, or "space walk"), on June 3, 1965, during Gemini 4.[27] Gemini 6A and 7 accomplished the first space rendezvous on December 15, 1965.[28] Gemini 8 achieved the first space docking with an uncrewed Agena Target Vehicle on March 16, 1966. Gemini 8 was also the first US spacecraft to experience in-space critical failure endangering the lives of the crew.[29]

Apollo program

The Apollo program was the third human spaceflight program carried out by NASA. The programs goal was to orbit and land crewed vehicles on the Moon.[30] The program ran from 1969 to 1972. Apollo 8 was the first human spaceflight to leave earth orbit and orbit the Moon on December 21, 1968.[31] Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969.[32]


The Skylab program's goal was to create the first space station of NASA. The program marked the last launch of the Saturn V rocket on May 19, 1973. Many experiments were performed on board, including unprecedented solar studies.[33] The longest crewed mission of the program was Skylab 4 which lasted 84 days, from November 16, 1973 to February 8, 1974.[34] The total mission duration was 2249 days, with Skylab finally falling from orbit over Australia on July 11, 1979.[35]

Space Shuttle
Space Shuttle Columbia seconds after engine ignition during STS-1, 1981.

Although its pace slowed, space exploration continued after the end of the Space Race. The United States launched the first reusable spacecraft, the Space Shuttle, on the 20th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, April 12, 1981. On November 15, 1988, the Soviet Union duplicated this with an uncrewed flight of the only Buran-class shuttle to fly, its first and only reusable spacecraft. It was never used again after the first flight; instead the Soviet Union continued to develop space stations using the Soyuz craft as the crew shuttle.

Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. Eileen Collins was the first female Shuttle pilot, and with Shuttle mission STS-93 in July 1999 she became the first woman to command a US spacecraft.

The United States continued missions to the ISS and other goals with the high-cost Shuttle system, which was retired in 2011.

Soviet Union

The Soviet space program (Russian: Космическая программа СССР, romanizedKosmicheskaya programma SSSR) was the national space program of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), conducted in competition with its Cold War adversary the United States, known as the Space Race from the mid-1950s until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It consisted of the development of expendable launch vehicles, uncrewed artificial satellites starting in 1953, and several human spaceflight programs.[36]


The Sputnik 1 became the first artificial Earth satellite on 4 October 1957. The satellite transmitted a radio signal, but had no sensors otherwise.[37] Studying the Sputnik 1 allowed scientists to calculate the drag from the upper atmosphere by measuring position and speed of the satellite.[38] Sputnik 1 broadcast for 21 days until its batteries depleted on 4 October 1957, and the satellite finally fell from orbit on 4 January 1958.[39]

Luna programme

The Luna programme was a series of uncrewed robotic satellite launches with the goal of studying the Moon.The program ran from 1959 to 1976 and consisted of 15 successful missions, the program achieved many first achievements and collected data on the Moon's chemical composition, gravity, temperature, and radiation. Luna 2 became the first man made object to make contact with the Moon's surface in September 1959.[40] Luna 3 returned the first photographs of the far side of the moon in October 1959.[41]


Vostok-2M (8A292M) in Korolyov, Moscow Oblast

The Vostok Programme the first Soviet spaceflight project to put the Soviet citizens into low Earth orbit and return them safely. The programme carried out six crewed spaceflights between 1961 and 1963. The program was the first program to put humans into space, with Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space on April 12, 1961 aboard the Vostok 1.[42] Gherman Titov Became the first person to stay in orbit for a full day on August 7, 1961 aboard the vostok 2.[43] Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963 aboard the Vostok 6.[44]


The Voskhod programme began in 1964 and consisted of two crewed flights before the program was canceled by the Soyuz programme in 1966. Voskhod 1 launched on October 12, 1964 and was the first crewed spaceflight with a multi-crewed vehicle.[45] Alexei Leonov performed the first spacewalk aboard Voskhod 2 on March 18, 1965.[46]


The Salyut programme was the first space station program undertaken by the Soviet Union.[47] The goal was to carry out long-term research into the problems of living in space and a variety of astronomical, biological and Earth-resources experiments. The program ran from 1971 to 1986. Salyut 1, the first station in the program, became the world's first crewed space station.[48]

Soyuz programme

The Soyuz programme was initiated by the soviet space program in the 1960s and continues as the responsibility of roscosmos to this day. The program currently consists of 140 completed flights, and since the retirement of the US Space Shuttle has been the only craft to transport humans. The programs original goal was part of a program to put a cosmonaut on the moon, and later became crucial to the construction of the Mir space station.


Mir Space Station viewed from Endeavour during STS-89.jpg
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Mir (Russian: Мир, IPA: [ˈmʲir]; lit.'peace' or 'world') was a space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001, operated by the Soviet Union and later by Russia. Mir was the first modular space station and was assembled in orbit from 1986 to 1996. It had a greater mass than any previous spacecraft. At the time it was the largest artificial satellite in orbit, succeeded by the International Space Station (ISS) after Mir's orbit decayed. The station served as a microgravity research laboratory in which crews conducted experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and spacecraft systems with a goal of developing technologies required for permanent occupation of space.

Mir was the first continuously inhabited long-term research station in orbit and held the record for the longest continuous human presence in space at 3,644 days, until it was surpassed by the ISS on 23 October 2010.[49] It holds the record for the longest single human spaceflight, with Valeri Polyakov spending 437 days and 18 hours on the station between 1994 and 1995. Mir was occupied for a total of twelve and a half years out of its fifteen-year lifespan, having the capacity to support a resident crew of three, or larger crews for short visits.


International Space Station

The ISS seen by Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Recent space exploration has proceeded, to some extent in worldwide cooperation, the high point of which was the construction and operation of the International Space Station (ISS). At the same time, the international space race between smaller space powers since the end of the 20th century can be considered the foundation and expansion of markets of commercial rocket launches and space tourism.

The United States continued other space exploration, including major participation with the ISS with its own modules. It also planned a set of uncrewed Mars probes, military satellites, and more. The Constellation program, began by President George W. Bush in 2005, aimed to launch the Orion spacecraft by 2018. A subsequent return to the Moon by 2020 was to be followed by crewed flights to Mars, but the program was canceled in 2010 in favor of encouraging commercial US human launch capabilities.

Russia, a successor to the Soviet Union, has high potential but smaller funding. Its own space programs, some of a military nature, perform several functions. They offer a wide commercial launch service while continuing to support the ISS with several of their own modules. They also operate crewed and cargo spacecraft which continued after the US Shuttle program ended. They are developing a new multi-function Orel spacecraft for use in 2020 and have plans to perform human moon missions as well.

European Space Agency

The European Space Agency has taken the lead in commercial uncrewed launches since the introduction of the Ariane 4 in 1988 but is in competition with NASA, Russia, Sea Launch (private), China, India, and others. The ESA-designed crewed shuttle Hermes and space station Columbus were under development in the late 1980s in Europe; however, these projects were canceled, and Europe did not become the third major "space power".

The European Space Agency has launched various satellites, has utilized the crewed Spacelab module aboard US shuttles, and has sent probes to comets and Mars. It also participates in ISS with its own module and the uncrewed cargo spacecraft ATV.

Currently ESA has a program for development of an independent multi-function crewed spacecraft CSTS scheduled for completion in 2018. Further goals include an ambitious plan called the Aurora Programme, which intends to send a human mission to Mars soon after 2030. A set of various landmark missions to reach this goal are currently under consideration. The ESA has a multi-lateral partnership and plans for spacecraft and further missions with foreign participation and co-funding. ESA is also developing Galileo program which seeks to give independence to the EU from the American GPS.


Long March 5 heavy-lifted rocket of China
Long March 5 heavy-lifted rocket of China
Shenzhou, China's crewed spacecraft.

Since 1956 the Chinese have had a space program which was aided early on from 1957-1960 by the Soviets. "Dong Fang Hong I" was launched on 24 April 1970 and was the first satellite to be launched by the Chinese. With increased economy and technology strength in the following decades, especially since early 21st century, China has made significant achievements in many aspects of space activities. It has developed a sizable family of Long March rockets, including Long March 5, the launch vehicle with highest payload capacity in Asia since 2016. China has launched more than 140 spaceflight launched between 2015 and 2020.[50] China is operating multiple satellite systems, including communication, Earth imaging, weather forecast, ocean monitoring. BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, the satellite navigation system developed, launched, and operated by China, is one of the four core system providers of International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems.[51]

The US Pentagon released a report in 2006, detailing concerns about China's growing presence in space, including its capability for military action.[52] In 2007 China tested a ballistic missile designed to destroy satellites in orbit, which was followed by a US demonstration of a similar capability in 2008.

China Manned Space Program

The China Manned Space Program is China's human spaceflight program began in 1992. Following Shenzhou 5, the first successful crewed spaceflight mission in 2003 which made China the third country with independent human spaceflight capability, China has developed critical capabilities including EVA, space docking and berthing and space station. Currently, China's Tiangong Space Station is under construction and the phase one of the project is expected to be completed in 2022.

Chinese Lunar Exploration Program

As the first step of distance outer space exploration, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program was approved in 2004. It launched two lunar orbiters: Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 in 2007 and 2010 respectively. On 14 December 2013, China successfully soft-landed Chang'e 3 Moon lander and its rover Yutu on Moon surface, becoming the first Asian country capable to do so, followed by Chang'e 4, the first ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon, in 2019 and Chang'e 5, the first lunar sample return mission conducted by an Asian country, in 2020, marking the completion of the three goals (orbiting, landing, returning) of the first stage of the program.[50]

Planetary Exploration of China

China began its first interplanetary exploration attempt in 2011 by sending Yinghuo-1, a Mars orbiter, in a joint mission with Russia. Yet it failed to leave Earth orbit due to the failure of Russian launch vehicle.[53] As a result, the Chinese space agency then embarked on its independent Mars mission. In July 2020, China launched Tianwen-1, which included an orbiter, a lander, and a rover, on a Long March 5 rocket to Mars. Tianwen-1 was inserted into Mars orbit on 10 February 2021, followed by a successful landing and deployment of the Zhurong rover on 14 May 2021, making China the second country in the world which successfully soft-landed a fully operational spacecraft on Mars surface.


Emmanuel Macron announced on 13 July 2019 the project to create a military command specialising in space, which would be based in Toulouse.

This command should be operational in September 2020 within the Air Force to become the Air and Space Force. Its purpose will be to strengthen France's space power in order to defend its satellites and deepen its knowledge of space. It will also aim to compete with other nations in this new place of strategic confrontation.[54]


Japan's space agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is a major space player in Asia. While not maintaining a commercial launch service, Japan has deployed a module in the ISS and operates an uncrewed cargo spacecraft, the H-II Transfer Vehicle.

JAXA has plans to launch a Mars fly-by probe. Their lunar probe, SELENE, is touted as the most sophisticated lunar exploration mission in the post-Apollo era. Japan's Hayabusa probe was mankind's first sample return from an asteroid. IKAROS was the first operational solar sail.

Although Japan developed the HOPE-X, Kankoh-maru, and Fuji crewed capsule spacecraft, none of them have been launched. Japan's current ambition is to deploy a new crewed spacecraft by 2025 and to establish a Moon base by 2030.


The National Space Organization (NSPO; formerly known as the National Space Program Office) and the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology are the national civilian space agencies of the democratic industrialized developed country of Taiwan under the auspices of the Ministry of Science and Technology (Taiwan). The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology is involved in designing and building Taiwanese nuclear weapons,[55][56][57] hypersonic missiles, spacecraft and rockets for launching satellites while the National Space Organization is involved in space exploration, satellite construction, and satellite development as well as related technologies and infrastructure (including the FORMOSAT series of Earth observation satellites similar to NASA[58] along with DARPA {In-Q-Tel} such as Google Earth {Keyhole, Inc} or so forth) and related research in astronautics, quantum physics, materials science with microgravity, aerospace engineering, remote sensing, astrophysics, atmospheric science, information science, design and construction of indigenous Taiwanese satellites and spacecraft, launching satellites and space probes into low Earth orbit.[59][60][61] Additionally, a state of the art crewed spaceflight program is currently in development in Taiwan and is designed to compete directly with the crewed programs of China, United States and Russia. Active research is currently undergoing in the development and deployment of space-based weapons for the defense of national security in Taiwan.[62]



Indian Space Research Organisation, India's national space agency, maintains an active space program. It operates a small commercial launch service and launched a successful uncrewed lunar mission dubbed Chandrayaan-1 in October 2007. India has successfully launched an interplanetary mission, Mars Orbiter Mission, in 2013 which reached Mars in September 2014, hence becoming the first country in the world to do a Mars mission in its maiden attempt. On July 22, 2019, India sent Chandrayaan-2 to the Moon, whose Vikram lander crashed on the lunar south pole region on September 6.

Other nations

Cosmonauts and astronauts from other nations have flown in space, beginning with the flight of Vladimir Remek, a Czech, on a Soviet spacecraft on March 2, 1978. As of November 6, 2013, a total of 536 people from 38 countries have gone into space according to the FAI guideline.

Private Companies

SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon Endeavor approaching the ISS

SpaceX (USA)

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) is an American aerospace manufacturer, space transportation services and communications corporation headquartered in Hawthorne, California. SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. SpaceX manufactures the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, several rocket engines, Dragon cargo, crew spacecraft and Starlink communications satellites.

SpaceX's achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008), the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010), the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012), the first vertical take-off and vertical propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015), the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017), and the first private company to send astronauts to orbit and to the International Space Station (SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 in 2020). SpaceX has flown and reflown the Falcon 9 series of rockets over one hundred times.

SpaceX is also planning a fully reusable rocket named Starship. It consists of a first stage named Super Heavy and a second stage also named Starship.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin made the first reusable space capable rocket booster, New Shepard (it is suborbital, Falcon 9 was the first orbital). They also originally had the idea of landing rocket boosters on ships at sea, however SpaceX replicated their idea and did it first. They lead the national team, which is designing a lunar lander and transfer vehicle (Integrated Lander Vehicle). They will contribute by modifying their Blue Moon lunar lander.

Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow Aerospace made the first commercial module in space (BEAM). They also designed and manufactured the first inflatable habitats in space (Genesis I and Genesis II). They also plan to make the first commercial space station around the moon (Lunar Depot), perhaps the first ever.

Northrop Grumman

They make commercial resupply runs to the ISS with their Cygnus spacecraft. They also helped develop non-commercial spacecraft during the space race (Apollo LM as Grumman). They also are a part of the national team, lead by Blue Origin which is designing a lunar lander and transfer vehicle (Integrated Lander Vehicle), partly based on Cygnus.

United Launch Alliance

Atlas V 551 launch with Juno.jpg

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is an American spacecraft launch service provider that manufactures and operates a number of rocket vehicles that are capable of launching spacecraft into orbits around Earth and to other bodies in the Solar System. The company, which is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space and Boeing Defense, Space & Security, was formed in December 2006. Launch customers of the United Launch Alliance include the Department of Defense (DoD), NASA, and other organizations.[63]

ULA provides launch services using expendable launch systems Delta IV Heavy and Atlas V, and until 2018 the medium-lift Delta II. The Atlas, Delta IV Heavy and the recently retired Delta IV launch systems have launched payloads including weather, telecommunications, and national security satellites, scientific probes and orbiters. ULA also launches commercial satellites.[64]

As of 2020, the company is developing the Vulcan Centaur, a successor to the Atlas V that includes some Delta IV technology.[65][66] The maiden flight is planned to take place in 2022, launching Astrobotic Technology's Peregrine lunar lander.[67][68] [69][70]


Arianespace SA is a French company founded in 1980 as the world's first commercial launch service provider.[71] It undertakes the operation and marketing of the Ariane programme.[72] The company offers a number of different launch vehicles: the heavy-lift Ariane 5 for dual launches to geostationary transfer orbit, the Soyuz-2 as a medium-lift alternative, and the solid-fueled Vega for lighter payloads.[73]

As of May 2021, Arianespace had launched more than 850 satellites[74] in 287 launches over 41 years. The first commercial flight managed by the new entity was Spacenet F1 launched on 23 May 1984. Arianespace uses the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana as its main launch site. Through shareholding in Starsem, it can also offer commercial Soyuz launches from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. It has its headquarters in Évry-Courcouronnes, Essonne, France.[75][76]

Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab logo.svg

Rocket Lab is a public American aerospace manufacturer and small satellite launch service provider with a wholly owned New Zealand subsidiary.[77][78][79][80] It developed a sub-orbital sounding rocket named Ātea and currently operates a lightweight orbital rocket known as Electron, which provides dedicated launches for small satellites and CubeSats. It is developing a new medium-lift launch vehicle named Neutron.[81] The company was founded in New Zealand in 2006 by engineer Peter Beck[82] and established headquarters in California in the United States in 2013.[83][84] On August 25th 2021 Rocket Lab publicly listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange through a SPAC merger with Vector Acquisition Corporation.[85]

The Electron test program began in May 2017,[86][87] with commercial flights announced by the company to occur at a price listed in early 2018 as US$5.7 million.[88] Launching from Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand, the rocket's test flights took place on 25 May 2017 and 21 January 2018,[89][90] while its first commercial flight took place on 11 November 2018.[91] On 16 December 2018, Rocket Lab launched their first mission for NASA's ELaNa program. The company plans to make its first Electron launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia in 2021.[92]

See also


  1. ^ Project Mercury's first two flights were suborbital flights (listed below), while its latter four flights were orbital flights.
  2. ^ Includes several special cases. Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11 were both fatal missions which reached space. Soyuz 19 was the Soviet participant in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a separate craft from the American Apollo craft which is listed below. Soyuz 32 brought a crew to the Salyut 6 space station, but the crew returned on Soyuz 34, which had been sent to the station without a crew. Soyuz T-10a was an aborted launch attempt which failed to reach space. As orbital flights or committed attempts, all of the above are included in the number. The one crewed Soyuz flight not included in this number is Soyuz 18a, an aborted mission which nevertheless reached space as a suborbital flight, and which is therefore listed separately below.
  3. ^ Does nt include Apollo 1.
  4. ^ Represents the American Apollo craft. The Soviet craft, Soyuz 19, is counted in the above Soyuz number.
  5. ^ Includes two fatal missions: STS-51-L, and STS-107. The former did not reach space, while the latter did.


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Further reading

Media related to History of spaceflight at Wikimedia Commons

  • Historic spacecraft