Space Exploration Timeline Title

1600 - 1960


Image Laika, the first live animal in space
Wikimedia Public Domain Image

July 5, 1687

Publication of Principia

The English astronomer Sir Isaac Newton publishes the Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. This three-volume work outlines Newton's three laws of motion as well as his law of universal gravitation and a derivation of Kepler's laws for the motion of the planets. The Principia is considered by many to be one of the most important scientific works ever written.



First Exposition of Rocket Mechanics

The British mathematician William Moore publishes Treatise on the Motion of Rockets. This work features the first exposition of rocket mechanics based on Newton's third law of motion.


Image of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
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Exploration of Cosmic Space

Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky publishes The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices. It suggests the use of reaction vehicles for interplanetary flight. This is the first serious work to be published that shows space exploration to be theoretically possible. It establishes Tsiolkovsky's reputation as the father of space flight theory.


Image of US rocket scientist Robert H Goddard
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Goddard's Rocket Patents

U.S. rocket scientist Robert H. Goddard receives two landmark patents for rockets. The first describes a multi-stage rocket and the second describes a rocket fueled with gasoline and liquid nitrous oxide. These two patents would become major milestones in the history of rocketry.

Image of A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes bu Robert H Goddard
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Goddard's Famous Publication

Robert Goddard publishes A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. The book describes Goddard's mathematical theories of rocket flight and his research into solid-fuel and liquid-fuel rockets. It is regarded by many as one of the most important works in the science of rocketry and is believed to have influenced the work of German rocket pioneers Hermann Oberth and Wernher von Braun.


May, 1924

Soviet Rocket Society Established

The Soviet Union establishes the Society for Studies of Interplanetary Travel. This group would soon be renamed the Society for the Study of Interplanetary Communications and would become the first Soviet rocket society.

Image of first liquid fueled rocket
Wikimedia Public Domain Image

March 16, 1926

First Liquid Fueled Rocket Launched

U.S. rocket scientist Robert H. Goddard launches the first liquid fueled rocket from his Aunt Effie's farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. The 4-foot high rocket dubbed "Nell" reaches an altitude of 41 feet and a speed of about 60 miles per hour. The flight lasts only 2 1/2 seconds, but paves the way for the U.S. rocket program.

Image of Verein für Raumschiffahrt, the Society for Space Travel
Public Domain Image


Rocket Club

The Verein für Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel) is formed as an association of amateur rocket enthusiasts in Germany prior to Word War II that includes members outside Germany. This group brings together many of the scientists and engineers who would eventually make important contributions to space flight. The group's first successful test firing with liquid fuel is performed by Max Valier at the Heylandt Works on January 25, 1930. Additional rocket experiments are conducted at a farm near Bernstadt, Saxony.



Aggregate Rocket Series

Work begins in Germany on the Aggregate series of rockets. Under the direction of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, this program eventually leads to development of the V-2 rocket, one of Nazi Germany's most powerful weapons of destruction.

Venera 13 image of the surface of Venus
Spike78 / CC BY-SA 4.0


Image of V2 rocket launch
Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-1880
CC-BY-SA 3.0

October 3, 1942

First Suborbital Flight

After two previous failures, Germany successfully launches their V-2 rocket. It is the first man-made object to achieve sub-orbital spaceflight, reaching an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers). The V-2 is the progenitor of all modern rockets including the U.S. Apollo program's Saturn V moon rocket. Is is powered by a liquid propellant rocket engine and is used to attack allies cities during World War II.

Image of a V2 rocket at White Sands, New Mexico
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May 10, 1946

First U.S. High Altitude Flight

The U.S. military achieves its first high-altitude space flight using a captured and rebuilt German V-2 rocket. Launched from the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, the test flight reaches an altitude of 70.9 miles (114.1 kilometers) and travels 31 miles (49.9 kilometers) down range from the launch site.

Image of Wac Corporal, the first american-designed rocket to reach space
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May 22, 1946

First American-Designed Rocket Reaches Space

The United States launches its first American-designed rocket. Known as the Wac Corporal, the rocket reaches the edge of space at an altitude of 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) after being launched from the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.

Image of fruit flies, the first animals in space
Francisco Romero Ferrero / CC BY-SA

February 20, 1947

First Animals in Space

Fruit flies become the first animals in space as a V-2 rocket is launched from the White Sands Proving Ground. Inside are several vials containing fruit flies, rye seeds, and cotton seeds. The flight reaches an altitude of 60 miles (96.6 kilometers), and the payload is later retrieved intact.


Image of R-7 Semyorka, first intercontinental ballistic missile
Sergei Arssenev / CC BY-SA

August 21, 1957

First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The Soviet Union launches the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Known as the R-7 Semyorka, it is 112 feet (34 meters) long and weight 280 metric tons. It travels a total distance of 3,728 miles (6,000 km) on its first flight. A modified version of this missile would be used later to launch the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1.

Image of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite
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October 4, 1957

First Artificial Satellite

The Soviet Union beats the United States into space by launching Sputnik 1. At only 184 pounds, it is the world's first artificial satellite. This basketball-sized object circles the planet once every hour and 36 minutes as it transmits radio signals back to Earth. All though its mission ends after only 22 days, it is considered to be a major accomplishment.

Image of Laika, the first live animal in space
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November 3, 1957

First Live Animal in Space

Following the success of Sputnik 1, the Soviets launch Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. This spacecraft contains a pressurized container that houses a dog named Laika. The capsule has a controlled atmosphere, food supply, waste collection system and biological sensors. Laika lives for 8 days until the food supply runs out, and proves that animals can survive in space.


Image of Explorer 1, the first American satellite
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January 31, 1958

First American Satellite

America launches its first artificial satellite. Weighing only 30 pounds, Explorer 1 is launched into orbit by the Army on a Jupiter-C rocket. The satellite is twice the size of a basketball and contains several scientific instruments. This mission discovers the radiation belts surrounding the Earth.

Image of NASA logo

October 1, 1958

NASA is Born

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is founded, taking over the responsibilities of the existing National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics.


Image of the Russian Luna 1 spacecraft
NASA/JPL Public Domain Image

January 2, 1959

First Spacecraft to Achieve Solar Orbit

The Russian satellite Luna 1 is launched in an attempt to hit the Moon. But due to an incorrectly timed upper stage burn during its launch, it misses the Moon and is flung out into space by the Moon's gravity. By sheer accident it becomes the first man-made object to achieve an orbit around the Sun. It is later dubbed "Artificial Planet 1" and renamed Mechta (Dream). Luna 1 has also been referred to as the "First Cosmic Ship", in reference to its achievement of Earth escape velocity.

Image of the Russian Luna 2 spacecraft
CC BY-SA NASA, Patrick Pelletier

September 12, 1959

First Spacecraft to Impact on the Moon

The Russian satellite Luna 2 is launched. On September 13, it becomes the first man-made object to hit the Moon. The spacecraft was sterilized to avoid the possibility of contaminating the Moon with terrestrial bacteria. On September 13, 1959, it impacted the Moon's surface east of Mare Imbrium near the craters Aristides, Archimedes, and Autolycus. It was the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the Moon.

Image of the far side of the Moon
NASA Public Domain Image

October 4, 1959

First View of Moon's Far Side

The Russian satellite Luna 3 is launched, orbiting the Moon and photographing 70 percent of the Moon's far side. This is mankind's first view of the far side of the Moon, which always faces away from the earth due to the fact that the Moon is tidally locked to our planet.


Image of Tiros 1, the first weather satellite
Wikimedia Public Domain Image

April 1, 1960

First Weather Satellite

Tiros 1, the first successful weather satellite, is launched by the United States. Two television cameras in the satellite return views of clouds above the Earth. Tiros 1 is only operational for 78 days, but proves that satellites can be useful tools for surveying weather conditions from space.