Page last updated at 18:50 GMT, Tuesday, 29 July 2008 19:50 UK

Timeline: Space flight

A chronology of key events:

THE 1950s

4 October 1957 - Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, is launched by the USSR. The launch stuns the world. To many Americans, the launch represents a Soviet capability to launch ballistic missile strikes against targets in the US.

Laika the dog (Nasa)

3 November 1957

- Sputnik 2 is launched by the USSR, carrying a dog, Laika, on board. The former stray, caught on the streets of Moscow, dies from overheating and panic a few hours into the mission.

6 December 1957 - America's first attempt to launch a satellite ends in humiliation when the Navy-built rocket explodes on the launch pad. The bid was dubbed "kaputnik" in the press.

31 January 1958 - Explorer 1, a satellite built by Wernher von Braun's competing team at the US Army's Redstone Arsenal, blasts into space. It discovers the Van Allen radiation belts above Earth.

28 May 1959 - the US sends a pair of monkeys, Able and Baker, into space on a Jupiter missile. They are the first living creatures to successfully return from a trip to space. Although Able died in June 1959, Baker survived until 1984.

THE 1960s

24 October 1960 - An R-16 rocket explodes on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, as it is being prepared for a test flight. The disaster claims more than 100 lives.

John Glenn (Nasa)
Former test pilot John Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth

12 April 1961

- The USSR sends the first man into space. Yuri Gagarin blasts off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, in a Vostok spacecraft. He makes a single orbit of Earth in 108 minutes. After re-entry, Gagarin ejects from his capsule and parachutes down safely in Russia's Saratov region.

5 May 1961 - Alan Shepard follows Gagarin to become the first American in space. He completes a sub-orbital flight in his spacecraft Freedom 7. "Why don't you light the damned candle, 'cause I'm ready to go," an exasperated Shepard tells mission control as he waits on the launch pad.

25 May 1961 - President John F Kennedy calls for millions of dollars to fund a space programme to get the first man on the Moon by 1970.

20 February 1962 - John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn travelled more than 130,000km (81,000 miles) in his Friendship 7 capsule, circling the globe three times.

16 June 1963 - The Soviet Union launches the first woman into space. Valentina Tereshkova, a former textile worker, circled the Earth 49 times during three days in space. She was reportedly injured during the landing and needed heavy make-up during subsequent public appearances.

Apollo 11 launch from Florida (Nasa)
The Saturn V remains the most powerful launch vehicle in history

18 March 1965 - Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov carries out the first ever spacewalk from the two-man Voskhod spacecraft. The mission almost ends in disaster when Leonov's suit inflates in space. The cosmonaut has to bleed air from the suit to get back in the airlock.

27 January 1967 - Fire sweeps through the Apollo command module during a test on the launch pad, killing astronauts Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Armstrong makes his "one small step"

24 April 1967 - Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies when the parachute on his Soyuz 1 spacecraft fails to deploy properly. The capsule crashes into the ground near Orenburg, Russia. He is the first person to die on a space mission.

20 July 1969 - The Apollo 11 crew makes the first human landing on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spend two hours on the lunar surface setting up observation equipment and collecting rock samples.

31 July 1969 - An unmanned US spacecraft, Mariner 6, makes a close fly-by of Mars. It approaches at a distance of 3,431km (2,132 miles) from the surface.

THE 1970s

13 April 1970 - Apollo 13 is crippled by an explosion caused by a fault in the oxygen tank. "Houston, we've had a problem here," mission commander Jim Lovell informs controllers. With guidance from the ground, the three-man crew later overcome the odds and make it back to Earth alive.

Eugene Cernan in the Lunar Roving Vehicle (Nasa)

15 December 1970

- After several failed attempts by the US and the USSR, the Soviet Venera 7 spacecraft makes the first soft landing on Venus. It sends back a temperature reading of 470C at the surface. Until the middle of the 20th Century, conditions on Venus were thought to be Earth-like.

19 April 1971 - Russia launches Salyut, the first space station. The first crew to dock with the orbiting outpost later die during re-entry when the air leaks out of their Soyuz capsule.

14 May 1973 - Skylab, a space station converted from the upper stage of a Saturn V rocket, is launched by Nasa.

Viking 2 image of Mars (Nasa)
Viking 2 photographed Mars' salmon sky in 1976

3 December 1973

- Nasa's Pioneer 10 probe becomes the first space vehicle to fly past Jupiter.

17 July 1975 - The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project becomes the first international space flight when US astronaut Thomas Stafford greets Alexei Leonov in the hatchway of their docked spacecraft.

20 July 1976 - The first of two Viking probes touches down on the surface of Mars. Controversy still surrounds one of the results from an experiment designed to detect life.

20 August 1977 - America launches its unmanned probe Voyager 2 on a mission of exploration to four planets and their moons.

THE 1980s

12 April 1981 - The US space shuttle Columbia lifts off on its maiden voyage. The shuttle is the world's first reusable manned spacecraft.

Bruce McCandless on MMU (Nasa)
Bruce McCandless went "free-flying" from the shuttle Challenger

7 February 1984 - Astronaut Bruce McCandless becomes the first person to walk in space without a safety tether. Mr McCandless tested a manned maneuvering unit (MMU), which allowed him to travel as far as 98m from the orbiter, during the 90-minute spacewalk.

18 June 1984 - Sally Ride becomes the first US woman in space, flying aboard space shuttle Challenger.

24 January 1986 - The US Voyager 2 spacecraft becomes the first spacecraft to make a close approach to Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun.

28 January 1986 - Nasa's Challenger space shuttle explodes, killing all seven astronauts on board. The cause of the disaster is traced to a faulty rocket booster seal.

The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just after take-off

19 February 1986 - The Soviet Union launches its space station Mir into Earth orbit. Mir has six docking stations, allowing other modules to be added on, expanding its size and capability.

13 March 1986 - The European Space Agency's Giotto spacecraft approaches the nucleus of Halley's Comet at a distance of 596km.

29 September 1988 - Nasa's first space shuttle flight since the Challenger disaster lifts off from Florida. Crew members launch a communications satellite - replacing one lost on Challenger.

THE 1990s

24 April 1990 - The Hubble Space Telescope is launched from the space shuttle Discovery. Initially dogged by a fault with its mirror, it is now regarded as one of the most important astronomical tools in history.

18 May 1991 - Britain's first astronaut, 27-year-old Helen Sharman from Sheffield, blasts off on a Russian rocket from Baikonur. Her Soyuz capsule docks with Russia's Mir space station the next day.

Space shuttle (Nasa)

2 September 1993

- Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin and US Vice-President Al Gore sign an agreement to merge the US Freedom and Russian Mir-2 space station projects, creating the basis for the International Space Station (ISS).

22 March 1995 - Cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov sets a record for the most consecutive days in space that has yet to be surpassed. Mr Polyakov, who is also a medical doctor, spent 437 days, 17 hours, 58 minutes aboard the Russian space station Mir during one trip.

7 December 1995 - The unmanned Galileo spacecraft arrives at Jupiter where it will carry out an eight-year mission of exploration.

20 November 1998 - Assembly of the ISS begins with the launch of its first module, Zarya, on a Proton rocket from Baikonur.

THE 2000s

1 February 2003 - The US space shuttle Columbia disintegrates as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.

SpaceShipOne (AP/Scaled Composites)
SpaceShipOne claimed the $10m X-Prize for private space flight

15 October 2003

- China launches its first manned mission in space. The Shenzhou 5 spacecraft carries "yuhangyuan" (astronaut) Yang Liwei into orbit for 21 hours. The country is only the third to launch a human into space.

25 December 2003 - Scientists fail to pick up an expected signal from British-built spacecraft Beagle 2 telling them it has landed safely on Mars. After several attempts to contact the probe draw a blank, it is declared lost.

4 January 2004 - Nasa's robotic rover Spirit lands successfully on Mars. It is joined on the Red Planet three weeks later by its "twin", the Opportunity rover. Each rover carries a suite of instruments to aid in their search for answers about the history of water on Mars.

Aerial view of Titan (Esa/Nasa/JPL/University of Arizona)
This image, based on data from Huygens, shows an aerial view of Titan

14 January 2004 - President George W Bush announces his Vision for Space Exploration, which includes the goal of returning Americans to the Moon by 2020.

1 July 2004 - The Cassini spacecraft enters orbit around Saturn to begin a four-year mission of exploration.

4 October 2004 - SpaceShipOne becomes the first privately built vehicle to reach space, flying to just above 100km - the boundary of our atmosphere.

Stardust sample return capsule
The Stardust mission was the first to bring samples of comet dust to Earth

14 January 2005 - Europe's Huygens probe plunges through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, touching down safely on the surface. It is the farthest from Earth any spacecraft has made a controlled landing.

15 January 2006 - Nasa's Stardust capsule touches down in the barren Utah salt flats carrying a precious cargo of cosmic dust swept up from the tail of Comet Wild-2. They are the the first samples of cometary dust ever brought to Earth for analysis.

Feitian suit on display (Getty)
China developed its own space suit for the EVA in 2008

25 May 2008 - The unmanned US Phoenix spacecraft touches down in the frozen northern plains of Mars - the first successful landing at one of the planet's poles. Phoenix carries out analysis of the Martian soil until it is declared "dead" on 10 November.

27 September 2008 - Former fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang carries out China's first ever spacewalk, stepping outside the Shenzhou 7 capsule for 20 minutes in a Chinese-developed Feitian space suit.

22 October 2008 - India launches its first ever unmanned mission to the Moon. A few weeks later, Chandrayaan-1 slips into orbit around Earth's only natural satellite, dropping a probe emblazoned with the Indian flag on to the lunar surface.

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