Since the first man-made satellite was launched into space in 1957, spaceflight has undergone radical change from simple launches of objects into space, to complex missions and return landings by manned craft.
NASA, formed as The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1915, can trace its history more than a hundred years into the past. NASA played an important role during and after the Second World War and is credited with helping to develop retractable landing gear, jet engine compressors and engine cowlings.
As the space race between the US and Russia ramped up in the 1950s, NACA transitioned into NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as we know it today. It officially began on Oct 1st1958. Neil Armstrong was actually an NACA employee who moved into NASA, having no idea he would later be the first man to walk on the moon. Here’s how space flight has changed in the past half century.
The first satellite in space was the Russian-made Sputnik, a 183-pound satellite that emitted a radio signal in orbit around the earth. It was shortly followed by the Sputnik II, which carried the first dog in space, Laika. The Russian space programme would later send the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. His flight lasted 108 minutes and consisted of a single orbit of the earth.
Project Mercury as American’s first manned space program, designed to put a man in orbit around the earth and return safely, achieving the goal a year after the Russian space team. But America would ultimately triumph in sending a man to the moon first, with Neil Armstrong’s small step touching down on July 20th, 1969.
From there, NASA endeavoured to create and launch the first space station, Skylab. The Saturn V rocket was launched in 1973, and numerous experiments were conducted onboard. The longest manned mission was Skylab 4 which ran for 84 days.
Mir, the first modular space station, was launched by the Russian space programme in 1986. It was constructed over the next ten years, serving as a microgravity laboratory. It was on this space station that the record for the longest time spent in space was set by Valery Polyakov, who stayed aboard for 437 days. Mir was continuously occupied for almost exactly ten years.
The first reusable spacecraft, the Space Shuttle, launched in 1981. This would signal a shift from single mission craft to the more sustainable models we know today.
The building of the International Space Station took the cooperation of 15 partners, including NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Society, the Canadian Space Agency and members of the European Space Agency. The first parts of the ISS were launched in 1998, and there have been over 40 launches since, bringing new space technology and personnel, and is the most expensive structure ever built. The International Space Station is planned to run until at least 2028, having proven itself invaluable to all areas of science.
Today most news about spacecraft is due to commercial ventures by space programmes and structures such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, who have developed reusable rockets. This is just one step towards commercial space flight and eventual colonisation of other planets. It’s likely that we’ll see huge advancements in space flight over the next decade as commercial flights become cheaper and more commonplace.
Read more about discoveries made in space, or about how astronauts live and work on the international space station.
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