Space Exploration Timeline Title

1600 - 1960


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.



Exploration of Cosmic Space

Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky publishesThe Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices. This is the first serious work to be published that shows space exploration to be theoretically possible.



Goddard's Rocket Patents

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


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.

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.


Rocket Club

The Verein für Raumschiffahrt (Society for Space Travel) is formed as an association of amateur rocket enthusiasts in Germany. This group brings together many of the engineers who would eventually make important contributions to space flight.



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.


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 100 km (62 miles). The V-2 is the progenitor of all modern rockets including the U.S. Apollo program's Saturn V moon rocket.

May 10, 1946

First U.S. High Altitude Flight

The U.S. military achieves its first high-altitude space flight using a rebuilt German V-2 rocket. Launched from the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, the flight reaches an altitude of 70 miles.

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 after being launched from the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.

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, and the payload is later retrieved intact.


August 21, 1957

First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The Soviet Union launches the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Known as the R-7 Semyorka, it travels a total distance of 6000 km (3728 miles). A modified version of this missile would be used later to launch the world's first artificial satellite.

October 4, 1957

First Artificial Satellite

The USSR beat the United States into space by launching Sputnik 1. At 184 pounds, it was the world's first artificial satellite. Sputnik transmitted radio signals back to Earth for only a short time, but it was a major accomplishment.

November 3, 1957

First Live Animal in Space

Following the success of Sputnik 1, the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. The spacecraft contained a pressurized container that housed a dog named Laika. The capsule contained a controlled atmosphere, food supply, waste collection system and biological sensors. Laika lived 8 days until the food supply ran out, and proved that animals could survive in space.


January 31, 1958

First American Satellite

America launched its first satellite. Weighing only 30 pounds, Explorer 1 was launched into orbit by the Army on a Jupiter-C rocket. The satellite contained several scientific instruments. This mission discovered the radiation belts surrounding the Earth.

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.


January 2, 1959

First Spacecraft to Achieve Solar Orbit

The Russian satellite Luna 1 is launched in an attempt to hit the Moon. The spacecraft misses the Moon and is flung out into space by the Moon's gravity. It becomes the first man-made object to achieve an orbit around the Sun.

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 contaminating the Moon with terrestrial bacteria.

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.


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 returned views of clouds above the Earth. Tiros 1 was only operational for 78 days, but proved that satellites could be useful tools for surveying weather conditions from space.