As of 2008 human spaceflights are being actively launched by the Space Shuttle program conducted by NASA, the Soyuz programme conducted by the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Shenzhou program conducted by the China National Space Administration.
At around 125 AD, a Greek satirist named Lucian wrote a book on space flight called True Histories. The book was full of tall, unbelieveable tales and travelogues on visits to the sun and the moon. Today, the book could easily be discarded as the fantasy of a people of a bygone era. But it was significant in the sense that it kindled the curiosities of the people of the day and stimulated interest in outer space and space travel.
In 1638, a Christian writer from England named Wilkins wrote a book on moon travel and suggested four methods to accomplish it. Firstly, he said, the divine soul could take man to the moon; secondly, some large and powerful birds could transport man to the moon; thirdly, man himself could make the journey by tying wings to his arms and fourthly, he said, a flying machine could transport man to the moon.
American author Herbert S. Zim claimed in 1945 that there is a Chinese legend where a scientist named Wan Hu in the early Ming dynasty attempted to travel through space with the help of rockets. In the story, Wan tied 47 rockets filled with explosives to the chair in which he was sitting and ignited them. There was a large explosion, but when the smoke cleared Wan Hu was gone and never seen again.
The United States became the second nation (and for four decades, one of only two) to achieve manned spaceflight, with the suborbital flight of astronaut Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7, carried out as part of Project Mercury. The spacecraft was launched on May 5, 1961 on a Redstone rocket. The first U.S. orbital flight was that of John Glenn aboard Friendship 7, which was launched February 20, 1962 on an Atlas rocket. Since April 12, 1981 the U.S. has conducted all its human spaceflight missions with reusable Space Shuttles. 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 U.S. spacecraft.
The People's Republic of China became the third nation to achieve human spaceflight when Yang Liwei launched into space on a Chinese-made vehicle, the Shenzhou 5, on October 15, 2003. This flight made China the third nation capable of launching its own manned spacecraft using its own launcher. Previous European (Hermes) and Japanese (HOPE-X) domestic manned programs were abandoned after years of development, as was the first Chinese attempt, the Shuguang spacecraft.
The furthest destination for a human spaceflight mission has been the Moon, and as of 2008 the only missions to the Moon have been those conducted by NASA as part of the Apollo program. The first such mission, Apollo 8, orbited the Moon but did not land. The first Moon landing mission was Apollo 11, during which -- on July 20, 1969 -- Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon. Six missions landed in total, numbered Apollo 11–17, excluding Apollo 13. Altogether twelve men reached the Moon's surface, the only humans to have been on an extraterrestrial body. The Soviet Union discontinued its program for lunar orbiting and landing of human spaceflight missions on June 24, 1974 when Valentin Glushko became General Designer of NPO Energiya.
The longest single human spaceflight is that of Valeriy Polyakov, who left earth on January 8, 1994, and didn't return until March 22, 1995 (a total of 437 days 17 hr. 58 min. 16 sec. aboard). Sergei Krikalyov has spent the most time of anyone in space, 803 days, 9 hours, and 39 seconds altogether. The longest perdiod of continuous human presence in space lasted as long as 3,644 days, eight days short of 10 years, spanning the launch of Soyuz TM-8 on September 5, 1989 to the landing of Soyuz TM-29 on August 28, 1999.
For many years beginning in 1961, only two countries, the USSR (later Russia) and United States, had their own astronauts. Later, cosmonauts and astronauts from other nations flew in space, beginning with the flight of Vladimir Remek, a Czech, on a Soviet spacecraft on March 2, 1978. As of 2007, citizens from 33 nations (including space tourists) have flown in space aboard Soviet, American, Russian, and Chinese spacecraft.
Numerous private companies attempted human spaceflight programs in an effort to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize. The first private human spaceflight took place on June 21, 2004, when SpaceShipOne conducted a suborbital flight. SpaceShipOne captured the prize on October 4, 2004, when it accomplished two consecutive flights within one week.
Most of the time, the only humans in space are those aboard the ISS, whose crew of three spends up to six months at a time in low Earth orbit.
|Country||Space Agency||National Term||First Launched Astronaut||Date||Spacecraft||Launcher|
|Soviet space program||cosmonaut (Russian: космонавт)||Yuri Gagarin||April 12, 1961||Vostok 1||Vostok|
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)||astronaut||Alan Shepard||May 5, 1961||Mercury-Redstone 3||Redstone|
|China National Space Administration (CNSA)||yǔhángyuán, hángtiānyuán||Yang Liwei||October 15, 2003||Shenzhou 5||Long March 2F|
|Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)||...||...||(2014), planned||...||GSLV Mk.III|
|European Space Agency (ESA)||astronaut||...||(2018), planned||CSTS or Hopper||Ariane V|
|Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)||...||...||(2020), planned||...||...|
|...||astronot, gökmen||...||(2020), planned||...||...|
|Iranian Space Agency (ISA)||Faza navard (Persian: فضانورد)||...||(?), planned||...||Shahab 6 or 7|
|China National Space Administration (CNSA)||yǔhángyuán, hángtiānyuán||...||(1973), abandoned||Shuguang 1||Long March 2|
|China National Space Administration (CNSA)||yǔhángyuán, hángtiānyuán||...||(1981), abandoned||Piloted FSW||Long March 2|
|European Space Agency (ESA)||astronaut||...||(1999), abandoned||Hermes||Ariane V|
|Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)||...||...||(2003), abandoned||HOPE-X||H-II|