Space Exploration Timeline Title

1981 - 1990


April 12, 1981

First Space Shuttle Launch

The first manned mission of the Space Transportation System (STS-1), Columbia, is launched. This mission, as well as the next three, will be a test flight to try out the spacecraft's systems.

August 25, 1981

Voyager 2 Arrives at Saturn

The Voyager 2 spacecraft arrives at Saturn and begins sending back images of the planet and its moons.


March 1, 1982

First Venus Soil Samples

The Soviet Venera 13 spacecraft lands on the planet Venus and provides the first scientific analysis of the Venusian soil.

May 13, 1982

New Space Endurance Record

Soviet cosmonauts Anatoli N. Berezovoi and Valentin V. Lebedev are launched in Soyuz T-5 to rendezvous with Salyut 7 and become the first team to inhabit the space station. They return to Earth in Soyuz T-7, setting a new duration record of 211 days.

November 11, 1982

First Operational Space Shuttle Mission

The Space Shuttle Columbia begins its fifth mission, the first operational Space Shuttle mission. STS-5 launches with a four-member crew on a five day mission that deploys two commercial satellites and performs a number of scientific experiments.


April 4, 1983

Maiden Voyage of Challenger

America's second Space Shuttle, Challenger, embarks on its first mission into space. The STS-6 mission includes America's first space walk in nine years.

June 19, 1983

First American Woman in Space

Astronaut Sally K. Ride becomes the first American woman to travel into space on Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-7.


February 3, 1984

First Untethered Spacewalk

Astronaut Bruce McCandless takes the first untethered space walk using the new Manned maneuvering Unit (MMU). Over the next few days, McCandless and fellow astronaut and Robert L. Stewart perform a number of tests with the MMU to practice for a future satellite capture mission.

August 30, 1984

Maiden Voyage of Discovery

The third orbiter of the American Space Shuttle fleet, Discovery, lifts off for its maiden voyage into space. During mission STS-41D, the six-member crew lunches three communications satellites and tests a new solar panel array.


October 3, 1985

Maiden Voyage of Atlantis

Atlantis, the forth orbiter in America's Space Shuttle fleet, begins its first mission in space. During mission STS-51J, the five-member crew performs a number of classified missions of the U.S. Department of Defense.


January 24, 1986

Space Shuttle Challenger Tragedy

The space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after liftoff of mission STS-51L, resulting in the loss of the spacecraft and her seven-member crew. The accident seems especially tragic because of Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian to fly into space. She is part of the Teacher in Space program and was to hold a number of classes for school children while in orbit. The accident is caused by unusually cold temperatures and a faulty O-ring seal in one of the solid rocket boosters. NASA grounds the entire space shuttle fleet until safety updates can be made.

February 20, 1986

Mir Station Launched

The first module of the Mir space station is successfully launched and placed into Earth orbit. Mir becomes the first modular space station in orbit. It hosts a number of successful Russian and American missions and remains in orbit until 2001 when it comes crashing down into the Pacific Ocean.


September 29, 1988

Space Shuttle Returns to Flight

The space shuttle Discovery launches from the Kennedy space center on mission STS-26, marking the shuttle's return to flight two and a half years after the Challenger accident. NASA redesigned the solid rocket boosters to make them safer. They also made a number of changes to operational procedures to prevent the communications breakdown that contributed to the Challenger accident.


August 25, 1989

Voyager 2 Arrives at Neptune

The Voyager 2 spacecraft arrives at Neptune, giving us our first close-up views of the blue planet and its moons. Scientists expect the planet to be a blue, featureless sphere much like Uranus. Instead, they discover a curious blue spot and a number of dynamic cloud features.


April 24, 1990

Launch of Hubble Space Telescope

Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off for mission STS-31, carrying the Edwin P. Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The telescope is successfully deployed, but is found to contain a seriously flawed primary mirror resulting in fuzzy images. A future Space Shuttle mission will install a corrective which will solve the problem and make Hubble the most powerful telescope ever created.

August 10, 1990

Magellan Arrives at Venus

U.S. spacecraft Magellan arrives at Venus where is begins mapping the planet's cloud-covered surface using radar.