What Are Some Facts About the History of Space Travel?

The first efforts to design rockets that could reach outer space began in the 1930s and involved scientists in Russia, Germany and the United States. On Oct. 4, 1957, Russians launched the first man-made spacecraft, Sputnik 1. Several months later, the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, into space.

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel to space, and in the same year, President John F. Kennedy announced the national goal of landing a man on the moon. U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong accomplished this goal in 1969.

The use of orbital space satellites became prevalent in the 1970s. In the same decade, the exploration spacecraft Voyager traveled across the solar system and began transmitting photographic images of the planets back to Earth. Also in the 1970s, the Mariner spacecraft mapped the surface of Mars, and the first U.S. space station, Skylab, went into orbit.

Aerospace advancements of the 1980s included the first orbital telescope, discovery of the hole in the ozone layer, and the beginning of the space shuttle program. The first reusable spacecraft, Columbia, entered orbit in 1981, helping to complete many civilian and military missions. The program temporarily halted in 1986 after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. In later decades, space travel became more integral to government and civilian programs, including meteorology, communication and national security.