Space Exploration Timeline Title

1971 - 1980


Image of Salyut 1 with docked Soyuz 10 spacecraft
Public Domain Image

April 19, 1971

First Space Station

The Salyut 1 space station is launched by the Soviet Union and becomes the first space station in orbit around the earth. It remains in orbit until May 28, 1973. The Salyut program continues with five more successful launches of seven more stations.

Image of of the crew of Soyuz 11
Public Domain Image

June 6, 1971

First Occupation of Space Station

Soyuz 11 carries Cosmonauts G.T. Dobrovolsky, V.N. Volkov, and V.I. Patsayev to the Salyut 1 station in the first manned occupancy of an orbital space station. Tragically, on June 29, the three Cosmonauts are killed when the crew capsule depressurizes while preparing for reentry. They become the first humans killed in space.

Image of astronaut James Irwin with the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon
NASA Public Domain Image

July 30, 1971

First Lunar Rover Mission

Apollo 15 astronauts David Scott and James Irwin drive the first Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) while exploring the surface of the Moon. The next year, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt drives a similar rover. Known also as the Moon Buggy, the LRV weighs 460 pounds (210 kg) without payload. It can carry a maximum payload of 1,080 pounds (490 kg) including two astronauts, equipment, and lunar samples.

Image of NASA's Mariner 9 spacecraft
NASA Public Domain Image

November 14, 1971

First Spacecraft to Orbit Another Planet

American space probe Mariner 9 arrives at the planet Mars and becomes the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. Over the next year, it maps 100 percent of the Martian surface. The spacecraft returns 7,329 images of the red planet over the course of its mission, which concludes in October of 1972.


Artist illustration of black hole candidate Cygnus X-1
ESA Copyright Free Use Image

December, 1972

First Black Hole Candidate

Astronomers designate Cygnus X-1 as the first probable black hole. This binary star system emits strong bursts of X-rays as matter is literally crushed out of existence by the black hole. It is one of the strongest X-ray sources seen from Earth.


Image of Skylab space station in orbit above Earth
NASA Public Domain Image

May 14, 1973

First U.S. Space Station

NASA launches Skylab, the first United States space station. The station experiences some damage during launch but will be repaired and occupied by three crews over the next few years. It also will become an important platform for a number of scientific experiments.

Image of the Skylab 2 crew
NASA Public Domain Image

May 25, 1973

First Skylab Crew

The United States launches Skylab 2, carrying the first crew to visit the new Skylab station. The three-member crew repairs damage sustained by Skylab station during its launch. They spend 28 days in space, setting a new space duration record for American astronauts.


Image of Apollo Syouz mission patch

July 17, 1975

First International Space Rendezvous

American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft dock in what is the first international spacecraft rendezvous. Known as the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, this important mission proves that U.S. and Russian crews can work together successfully in space. The Apollo spacecraft is launched with a special docking mechanism to allow the two spacecraft to join together. While docked, the two crews perform both joint and separate scientific experiments, including an arranged eclipse of the Sun.

Venera 9 image of the surface of Venus
Public Domain Image

October 22, 1975

First Surface Images of Venus

The Soviet Venera 9 spacecraft lands successfully on Venus and sends the first pictures of the Venusian surface back to Earth. The spacecraft also takes measurements of the planet's atmosphere before being destroyed by the intense heat and pressure.


Viking 1 image of the surface of Mars
NASA Public Domain Image

July 20, 1976

First Surface Images of Mars

The first pictures of the surface of Mars are sent back to Earth by Viking 1, the first U.S. spacecraft to successfully land on another planet. It is the second spacecraft to make a soft landing on Mars and the first to successfully perform its mission. Viking 1 photographs the surface and reveals a rocky, desolate landscape that shows no signs of life.

Viking 2 image of frost on the surface of Mars
NASA Public Domain Image

September, 1976

Discovery of Water Frost on Mars

Following the success of Viking 1, the Viking 2 spacecraft lands on Mars in the Plain of Utopia. It discovers and photographs water frost and sends back stunning images of the Martian surface. Viking 2 operates on the surface for 1,316 Earth days (1,281 Martian days or sols), and is turned off on April 12, 1980 when its batteries fail.


Artist illustration of the Voyager 1 spacecraft
NASA Public Domain Image

August-September, 1977

Launch of Historic Voyager Missions

The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft are launched into space on an epic tour of the Solar System. Their long journey will take them to the outer planets and give us our first views of these mysterious worlds. The two spacecraft will soon encounter Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980.


Pioneer Venus Orbiter image of the planet Venus
NASA Public Domain Image

December, 1978

U.S. Probes Arrive at Venus

Two U.S. Pioneer spacecraft reach the planet Venus. The Pioneer Venus Orbiter enters orbit around Venus on December 4, 1978, and performs observations of the planet's atmosphere and cloud layers. The Pioneer Venus Multiprobe spacecraft deploys four small probes into the Venusian atmosphere on December 9, 1978. All four probes transmit data throughout their descent to the surface.


Voyager 1 image of active volcano on Jupiter's moon Io
NASA Public Domain Image

March 5, 1979

Voyager 1 Arrives at Jupiter

The U.S. Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, finally arrives at Jupiter and begins sending back amazing images of the giant planet and its moons. The spacecraft passes within 217,000 miles (349,000 kilometers) of the planet's center. Voyager 1 discovers volcanic activity on Jupiter's moon Io. This is the first time active volcanoes have been seen on another body in the Solar System.

Voyager 2 image of Jupiter's moon Callisto
NASA Public Domain Image

July 9, 1979

Voyager 2 Arrives at Jupiter

The U.S. Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched in 1977, arrives at Jupiter and begins sending back images of Jupiter and its moons. It passes within 350,000 miles (570,000 kilometers) of the planet's cloud tops. Voyager 2 returns images of Jupiter, as well as its moons Amalthea, Io, Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa. It also confirms Voyager 1's observations of active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io. Three new moons were also discovered.

Pioneer image of the planet Saturn and its moon Titan
NASA Public Domain Image

September 1, 1979

First Images of Saturn

The U.S. space probe Pioneer 11 reaches Saturn, flying within 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) of the planet's cloud tops. It sends back the first closeup photographs of the ringed planet. The spacecraft discovers another moon and another ring. It also studies the planet's magnetosphere and magnetic field and discovers that the moon Titan is too cold for life.


Voyager 1 image of the planet Saturn
NASA Public Domain Image

November 12, 1980

Voyager 1 Arrives at Saturn

The Voyager 1 spacecraft arrives at Saturn and begins sending back extraordinary images of the ringed planet and its many moons. The probe passes within 77,000 miles (124,000 kilometers) of Saturn's cloud tops. Voyager 1's cameras detect complex structures in the rings, and its remote sensing instruments study the atmospheres of Saturn and its moon Titan.