Space Exploration Timeline Title

1961 - 1970


April 12, 1961

First Man in Space

Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to venture into space. The Vostok 1 spacecraft made one complete orbit around Earth in 108 minutes, and reached altitudes of 112 to 203 miles. The flight lasted only one hour and 48 minutes.

May 5, 1961

First American in Space

On May 5, 1961, Astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to be launched into space. Shepard's suborbital flight lasted only15-minutes, during which time he experienced about 5 minutes of "weightlessness" and tested the maneuvering capability of his Mercury capsule.

May 25, 1961

President Kennedy's Historic Speech

Just 20 days after Alan Shepard's flight, President John F. Kennedy made his historic speech to Congress. He challenged the nation to land "a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth" before the end of the decade.


February 20, 1962

First American in Orbit

Astronaut John H. Glenn was launched into orbit aboard an Atlas D rocket, where he became the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn made a total of 3 complete orbits, and the flight time was 4 hours and 56 minutes.


March 18, 1965

First Space Walk

Commander Pavel I. Belyayeu and Pilot Alexei A. Leonov into Earth’s orbit were launched into orbit aboard Voskhod 2. Alexei Leonov performed the first, tethered space walk outside of his spacecraft while in Earth’s orbit. This historic venture into space lasted a mere 12 minutes.

July 14, 1965

First Close-up Images of Mars

Mariner 4 arrived at Mars and gave scientists their first views of the planet at close range. The resulting photos showed no sign of the famous "canals" and no evidence of life.


February 3, 1966

First Spacecraft to Land on the Moon

The Russian spacecraft Luna 9 completed a 250,000-mile trip and successfully became the first spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon. Luna 9 transmitted pictures of the Moon's surface back to Earth. The mission demonstrated that the Moon's surface was strong enough to support the weight of a large spacecraft.

June 2, 1966

First American Spacecraft on the Moon

Surveyor 1 became the first American spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon. After a journey of 63 hours and 36 minutes, Surveyor 1 successfully landed only 9 miles off its target in the Oceanus Procellarum. The spacecraft transmitted more than 11,000 high-resolution photographs before its energy sources were depleted.


January 27, 1967

First U.S. Space Tragedy

During a routine test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft on the launch pad, a spark caused a fire to start in the crew compartment of the command module. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, were killed in this tragic incident. It was later determined that faulty wiring caused the spark, and the pure oxygen environment in the capsule was to blame for the rapid spreading of the blaze.

April 23, 1967

First Spaceflight Casualty

Soviet Soyuz 1 is launched, carrying Vladimir M. Komarov. On April 24 it crashed during re-entry, killing Komarov, the first spaceflight fatality.

October 18, 1967

First Venus Probe

The Soviet probe Venera 4 sends a descent capsule into the atmosphere of the planet Venus, returning data about its composition.


September 15, 1968

First Moon Orbit

The Soviet Zond 5 is launched. It becomes the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon and return.

October 11, 1968

First Manned Apollo Mission

Apollo 7 is the first manned Apollo mission into space with Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donn F. Eisele, and Walter Cunningham. It makes 163 orbits of the Earth during 10 Days, 20 minutes. The test flight checks life-support, propulsion, and control systems for the new Apollo spacecraft.

December 21, 1968

First Manned Moon Orbit

Apollo 8 is launched with Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr. and William A. Anders, the first Apollo to use the Saturn V rocket, and the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon, making 10 orbits during its 6-day mission.


July 20, 1969

First Manned Moon Landing

Apollo 11 makes the first successful soft landing on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr. become the first human beings to set foot on another world. Many experts still consider this to be the single greatest technological achievement of 20th century.


April 11, 1970

Apollo 13 Launch

Apollo 13 is launched, suffering an explosion in its SM oxygen tanks. Its Moon landing is aborted, and the entire world watches as James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr. and Fred W. Haise, Jr., struggle for days to survive. They return safely to Earth after several harrowing days in space.

September 12, 1970

First Automated Return of Lunar Soil

The Soviet Luna 16 is launched, conducting the first successful return of lunar soil samples by an automatic spacecraft.

November 17, 1970

First Robotic Lunar Mission

Luna 17 lands on the Moon, with the first automatic robot, Lunokhod 1. Driven by a five-man team on Earth, the craft travels over the lunar surface for 11 lunar days (322 Earth days). During this time, it returns 20,000 TV images and 206 high-resolution panoramas in addition to performing a host of experiments including soil analysis.

December 15, 1970

First Landing on Venus

The Soviet Venera 7 is the first probe to soft-land on Venus, transmitting for 23 minutes. The spacecraft send back a few images of the planet's surface before succumbing to the extreme heat and pressure of Venusian atmosphere.