Space Exploration Timeline
- October 4, 1957 - Sputnik 1, the first man-made
object to orbit the Earth, is launched by the U.S.S.R., and remains
in orbit until January 4, 1958.
- November 3, 1957 - Sputnik 2, carrying the dog
Laika for 7 days in orbit, is launched by the U.S.S.R., and remains
in orbit until April 13, 1958.
- January 31, 1958 - Explorer 1, the first U.S.
satellite in orbit, lifts off at Cape Canaveral using a modified
ABMA-JPL Jupiter-C rocket. It carries a scientific experiment
of James A. Van Allen, and discovers the Earth's radiation belt.
- March 5, 1958 - Explorer 2 is launched by a Jupiter-C
rocket, and fails to reach orbit.
- March 17, 1958 - Vanguard 1 satellite is launched
into orbit, and continues to transmit for 3 years.
- May 15, 1958 - Sputnik 3 is launched by the U.S.S.R.
- October 1, 1958 - N.A.S.A. is founded, taking over existing
National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics.
- October 11, 1958 - Pioneer 1, U.S. - IGY space
probe, launched to a height of 70,700 miles.
- January 2, 1959 - Luna 1, first man-made satellite
to orbit the sun, is launched by the U.S.S.R.
- March 3, 1959 - Pioneer 4, fourth U.S.-IGY
space probe was launched by a Juno II rocket, and achieved an
earth-moon trajectory, passing within 37,000 miles of the moon.
It then fell into a solar orbit, becoming the first U.S. sun orbiter.
- September 12, 1959 - Luna 2 is launched, impacting
on the moon on September 13 carrying a copy of the Soviet coat
of arms, and becoming the first man-made object to hit the moon.
- October 4, 1959 - Luna 3 translunar satellite
is launched, orbiting the moon and photographing 70 percent of
the far side of the moon.
- April 1, 1960 - Tiros 1, the first successful
weather satellite, is launched by the U.S.
- August 18, 1960 - Discoverer XIV launches the
first U.S. camera-equipped Corona spy satellite.
- April 12, 1961 - Vostok 1 is launched by the
U.S.S.R., carrying Cosmonaut Yuri A. Gargarin, the first man in
space. He orbits the Earth once.
- May 5, 1961 - Mercury Freedom 7 carries Alan B.
Shepard,Jr., the first U.S. Astronaut into space, in a suborbital
- August 6, 1961 - Vostok 2 is launched by the U.S.S.R.,
carrying Cosmonaut Gherman Titov, the first day-long Soviet space
- February 20, 1962 - Mercury Friendship 7 lifts
off with John H. Glenn, Jr., the first American in orbit, and
orbits the Earth three times.
- May 24, 1962 - Mercury Aurora 7 is launched with
M. Scott Carpenter, making three orbits.
- July 10, 1962 - Telstar 1, U.S. satellite, beams
the first live transatlantic telecast.
- December 14, 1962 - U.S. Mariner 2, the first
successful planetary spacecraft, flies past Venus, and enters
a solar orbit.
- June 16, 1963 - Vostok 6 carries Soviet Cosmonaut
Valentia Tereshkova, the first woman in space and orbits the Earth
- June, 1963 - Martin Schmidt interprets the behavior of
3C 273 - the first known quasar.
- July 31, 1964 - U.S. Ranger 7 relays the first
close-range photographs of the Moon.
- March 18, 1965 - The first space walk is made from Soviet
Voskhod 2 by Cosmonaut Alexei A. Leonov. Duration is 12
- March 23, 1965 - First manned flight of the Gemini program,
Gemini 3 carrying Virgil I. Grissom and John W. Young.
Made three orbits around the earth.
- March 24, 1965 - Ranger 9 transmits high-quality
images of the moon, many of which were shown live in the first
television spectacular about the moon.
- June 3, 1965 - Edward White II makes the first U.S. space
walk from Gemini 4. Duration is 22 minutes.
- July 14, 1965 - U.S. Mariner 4 returns the first
close-range images about Mars.
- November 16, 1965 - Soviet Venus 3 is launched,
becoming the first craft to impact Venus on March 1, 1966.
- December 4, 1965 - Gemini 7 is launched carrying
Frank Borman and James A. Lovell, Jr., making 206 orbits around
Earth and proving a trip to the Moon possible.
- December 15, 1965 - American astronauts Walter Schirra,
Jr. and Thomas Stafford in Gemini 6 make the first space
rendezvous with Gemini 7.
- February 3, 1966 - Soviet Luna 9 is the first
spacecraft to soft-land on the moon.
- March 1, 1966 - Soviet Venera 3 impacts on Venus,
the first spacecraft to reach another planet. It fails to return
- March, 1966 - Soviet Luna 10 is the first spacecraft
to orbit the moon.
- June 2, 1966 - Surveyor 1 is the first U.S. spacecraft
to soft-land on the Moon.
- August 14, 1966 - U.S. Lunar Orbiter 1 enters
moon orbit, and takes the first picture of the Earth from the
distance of the moon.
- April 23, 1967 - Soviet Soyuz 1 is launched,
carrying Vladimir M. Komarov. On April 24 it crashed, killing
Komarov, the first spaceflight fatality.
- October 18, 1967 - Venera 4 sends a descent capsule
into the Venusian atmosphere, returning data about its composition.
- September 15, 1968 - Soviet Zond 5 is launched,
the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon and return.
- October 11, 1968 - Apollo 7 is the first manned
Apollo mission with Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donn F. Eisele, and
Walter Cunningham. It orbited the earth once.
- December 21, 1968 - 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 on
its 6-day mission.
- January, 1969 - Soyuz 4 & 5 perform the first
Soviet spaceship docking, transferring Cosmonauts between vehicles.
- July 20, 1969 - Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr.
make the first manned soft landing on the Moon, and the first
moonwalk, using Apollo 11.
- July 31, 1969 - Mariner 6 returns high-resolution
images of the Martian surface, concentrating on the equatorial
- August 5, 1969 - Mariner 7 returns high-resolution
images of the Martian surface, concentrating on the southern hemisphere.
- April 11, 1970 - Apollo 13 is launched, suffering
an explosion in its SM oxygen tanks. Its Moon landing is aborted,
and the crew, James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr. and Fred
W. Haise, Jr., return safely.
- September 12, 1970 - Soviet Luna 16 is launched,
conducting the first successful return of lunar soil samples by
an automatic spacecraft.
- November 17, 1970 - Luna 17 lands on the moon,
with the first automatic robot, Lunokhod 1. Driven by a
five-man team on earth, traveled over surface for 11 days.
- December 15, 1970 - Soviet Venera 7 is the first
probe to soft-land on Venus, transmitting for 23 minutes.
- January 31, 1971 - Apollo 14 moon mission is launched
by the U.S. with the legendary Alan Shepard, along with Stuart
Roosa and Edgar Mitchell on board. They land in the planned Apollo
13 site, the Fra Mauro highlands, which they explore with the
help of a two-wheeled cart that permits the transport of a significantly
greater quantity of lunar material than previous missions. Shepard
becomes the first man to hit a golf ball on the moon.
- April 19, 1971 - Salyut 1 space station is launched
by the U.S.S.R. It remains in orbit until May 28, 1973.
- May 30, 1971 - The United States launches Mariner
9, which becomes the first spacecraft to survey Mars from
- June 6, 1971 - Soyuz 11 carried Cosmonauts G.T.
Dobrovolsky, V.N. Volkov, and V.I. Patsayev to Salyut 1,
the first manned occupancy of an orbital station. However, on
June 29, the Cosmonauts died upon Soyuz 11's reentry.
- July 30, 1971 - Apollo 15 astronauts David Scott
and James Irwin drive the first moon rover. The next year, Apollo
17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt drives a similar rover.
- November 13, 1971 - American Mariner 9 (launched
May 30, 1971) is the first spacecraft to orbit another planet,
Mars. Over the next year, it maps 100 percent of the Martian surface.
- March 2, 1972 - Pioneer 10 is launched on an Atlas/Centaur/TE364-4
towards Jupiter by the U.S., designed to familiarize alien life
with humans. It returns the first close-up images of Jupiter in
- July 15, 1972 - Pioneer 10 becomes the first man-made
object to travel through the asteroid belt.
- December, 1972 - Scientists designate Cignus X-1 as the
first probable black hole.
- April 5, 1973 - Pioneer 11 is launched on an Atlas/Centaur/TE364-4,
flying past Jupiter in 1974, and Saturn in 1979, where it discovers
- May 14, 1973 - Skylab Workshop is launched by
the U.S., and maintained by three crews.
- May 25, 1973 - First crew to Skylab, Skylab
2, are launched, repairing damage incurred to Skylab
during its launch.
- November 3, 1973 - American Mariner 10 is launched,
on the first dual-planet mission. Over the next year, it returned
photographs of Venus and Mercury.
- May 17, 1974 - NASA launches the first Synchronous Meteorological
- June 24, 1974 - Soviet Salyut 3, their first military
space station, is launched. It remains in orbit until January
- December 26, 1974 - Soviet Salyut 4, civilian
space station, is launched. It remains in orbit until February
- July, 1975 - American Apollo (18) and Soviet Soyuz
19 dock, the first international spacecraft rendezvous.
- October, 1975 - Soviet Venera 9 and 10
send the first pictures of the Venusian surface to Earth.
- June 22, 1976 - Soviet military space station Salyut
5 is launched, remaining in orbit until August 8, 1977.
- July 20, 1976 - Pictures of the Martian surface are taken
by Viking 1, the first U.S. attempt to soft land a
spacecraft on another planet.
- September 3, 1976 - Viking 2 lands on Mars on
the Plain of Utopia, where it discovered water frost.
- August-September, 1977 - Voyagers 1 and 2
leave Earth to meet with Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980.
- September 29, 1977 - Soviet Salyut 6 space station
is launched. Its crews include members from Czechoslovakia, Poland,
GDR, Bulgaria, Hungary, Vietnam, Cuba, Mongolia, and Romania.
- November, 1978 - The Einstein Observatory begins its
- December, 1978 - Two Pioneer spacecraft reach
Venus. One drops four probes into the atmosphere, while the other
maps the surface.
- September 1, 1979 - Pioneer 11 reaches Saturn,
flying to within 13,000 miles and taking the first close-up photographs.
- April 12, 1981 - The first manned mission of the Space
Transportation System (STS-1), Columbia , is launched.
- June 19, 1981 - The European Space Agency launches its
third Ariane rocket.
- December 20, 1981 - The ESA launches a fourth Ariane
- March 1, 1982 - Venera 13 lands on Venus, and
provides the first Venusian soil analysis.
- April 19, 1982 - Soviet Salyut 7 space station
- May 13, 1982 - Soviet Cosmonauts Anatoly N. Berezovoi
and Valentin V. Lebedev are launched in Soyuz-T 5 to rendezvous
with Salyut 7, the first team to inhabit the space station.
They return to Earth in Soyuz-T 7, setting a (then) duration
record of 211 days.
- August, 1982 - Voyager 2 completes its flyby of
- November 11, 1982 - The space shuttle Columbia's
fifth mission, its first operational one, begins, deploying two
satellites. Crew: Vance Brand, Robert Overmyer, Joseph Allen,
and William Lenoir.
- April 4, 1983 - The space shuttle Challenger lifts
off for its first mission (STS-6) and has the first American space
walk in nine years. Crew: Paul Weitz, Karol Bobko, Donald Peterson,
and Story Musgrave.
- June 19, 1983 - Sally K. Ride is the first U.S. woman
to travel in space, on Challenger mission STS-7.
- October 10, 1983 - Soviet Venera 15 returns the
first high-resolution images of the Venus polar area, and compiled
a thermal map of most of the northern hemisphere.
- November 28, 1983 - The space shuttle Columbia
carries the ESA Spacelab-1 into orbit (STS-9). Its crew includes
Ulf Merbold, A German and first ESA member in space..
- January-November, 1983 - The Infrared Astronomical Satellite
finds new comets, asteroids, galaxies, and a dust ring around
the star Vega that may be new planets.
- February 3, 1984 - Bruce McCandless takes the first untethered
space walk using MMU from the space shuttle Challenger
- July 17, 1984 - launch of Soyuz-T 12 carrying
Svetlana Savitskaya, who becomes the first woman to walk in space.
- August 30, 1984 - The third space shuttle, Discovery,
lifts off on it's maiden voyage (STS-41D). Crew: Henry W. Hartsfield,
Michael L. Coats, Richard Mullane, Steven Hawley, Judith A. Resnik,
and Charles D. Walker.
- October, 1984 - Salyut 7's cosmonauts L. D. Kizim,
V. A. Solovyov, and O. Y. Atkov set a (then) 237-day record in
space. They arrive at Salyut 7 in Soyuz-T 10 and
depart in Soyuz-T 11
- October 5, 1984 - launch of space shuttle Challenger
mission STS-41G carrying the first crew with two women aboard
- Sally Ride and Katherine Sullivan. Sullivan becomes the first
American woman to walk in space.
- December, 1984 - Soviet/International Vega 1 & 2
are launched, dropping probes into Venus' atmosphere before continuing
to Halley's Comet.
- January 8, 1985 - The Sakigake probe is launched
by Japan's Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, becoming
the first interplanetary probe as it rendezvous with Halley's
- April 29, 1985 - The Challenger carries the ESA
Spacelab-3 into orbit (STS-51B).
- July 2, 1985 - The European Space Agency launches the
Giotto spacecraft from an Ariane rocket. It encounters Halley's
Comet in 1986, and Comet P/Grigg-Skjellerup in 1992.
- October 3, 1985 - The fourth space shuttle Atlantis
takes off on its first mission (STS-51J). Crew: Karol J. Bobko,
Ronald J. Grabe, Robert A. Stewart, David C. Hilmers,
and William A. Pailes.
- October 1985 - Spacelab D1, the first joint German/ESA
mission, is flown. Its crew consists of two German DARA astronauts,
and Danish Wubbo Ockels of the ESA.
- January, 1986 - Voyager 2 flies past Uranus.
- January 28, 1986 - The space shuttle Challenger
explodes shortly after liftoff of mission STS-51L.
- February 20, 1986 - The core unit of Soviet space station
Mir is launched.
- March, 1986 - Spacecraft from the U.S.S.R, Japan, and
Western Europe fly by Halley's Comet on it's 30th recorded appearance.
- March, 1986 - Astronomers discover an invisible gravity
source that splits a quasar's light.
- April, 1986 - Astronomers find that our galaxy is smaller
than they thought and the Sun is 23,000 light-years from it's
- February 25, 1987 - Supernova 1987A blazes into view.
- December 1987 - Cosmonaut Yuri V. Romanenko returns from
space station Mir, having arrived there from Soyuz-TM
2, and sets a (then) space endurance record of 326 days.
- May 4, 1989 - Space Shuttle Atlantis is launched
(STS-30), deploying the spacecraft Magellan.
- July 12, 1989 - Soviet/International Phobos 2
launched, which orbits Mars to study its surface, atmosphere and
- October 18, 1989 - U.S. launches the Galileo spacecraft
from Shuttle Atlantis flight STS-34, which took infrared
images of Venus, and images of the asteroid Ida, before continuing
- April 5, 1990 - U.S. Pegasus rocket is deployed
from a B-52 bomber, and launched the Pegsat satellite in
the first demonstration of the Pegasus launch vehicle.
- April 24, 1990 - Space Shuttle Discovery launches
on STS-31, deploying the Edwin P. Hubble Space Telescope
(HST) astronomical observatory.
- August, 1990 - U.S. spacecraft Magellan arrives
at Venus, where for the next year it took radar images of the
- October 6, 1990 - Space Shuttle Discovery
launches the Ulysses spacecraft with two upper stages,
on mission STS-41. Ulysses flies toward Jupiter, to be
slingshot towards the sun, to obtain data from high solar latitudes.
- February 7, 1991 - Salyut 7 falls from orbit and
burns up over Argentina.
- April 5, 1991 - Space Shuttle Atlantis carries
the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory into orbit. This new
space telescope, built by NASA, was the first to provide an all-sky
continuous survey in the gamma-ray and X-ray spectra.
- June 5, 1991 - Shuttle Columbia carries the Spacelab
SLS-1 into orbit, to conduct investigations into the effects of
weightlessness on humans. (STS-40)
- February 8, 1992 - Spacecraft Ulysses flies around
Jupiter, on its way to the sun.
- May 2, 1992 - Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts
off on its first mission (STS-49), repairing the Intelsat VI satellite.
Crew: Daniel C. Brandenstein, Kevin P. Chilton, Richard J. Hieb,
Bruce E. Melnick, Pierre J. Thout, Kathryn C. Thornton, and
Thomas D. Akers.
- September 25, 1992 - Mars Observer lifts off,
the first American probe to Mars in 17 years, since Viking
2. This probe is intended as an orbital mapper to study the
red planet's atmosphere, surface, and geological make-up. The
spacecraft functions well during its cruise to Mars, then all
contact was lost on August 21, 1993, three days before orbital
- December 2, 1993 - Space Shuttle Endeavour
launches on STS-61, making the first on-orbit service of the
Hubble Space Telescope (HST).
- January 25, 1994 - U.S. launches Clementine, a
new DOD satellite that performs a lunar mapping mission using
advanced ballistic missile defense technologies. It suffers a
malfunction on May 10, 1994, ending its mission.
- February, 1994 - A Russian Cosmonaut, Sergei Krikalev,
flies on board the U.S. space shuttle Discovery for the
first time (STS-60).
- September 13, 1994 - Spacecraft Ulysses reaches
a maximum Southern latitude of 80.2 degrees at the sun, proceeding
towards the Northern latitudes, maintaining an orbital period
of six years.
- October 12, 1994 - Spacecraft Magellan enters
the atmosphere of Venus, burning up following the completion of
its mapping mission.
- December 9, 1994 - Asteroid XM1 passes within 65,000
miles of Earth.
- February 6, 1995 - Space shuttle Discovery maneuvers
to within 37 feet of Russian space station Mir, in preparation
for a shuttle-Mir docking (STS-63). This is the first shuttle
mission to be flown by a female pilot.
- March 22, 1995 - Cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov returns to
Earth after a 438-day mission aboard Russian space station Mir,
setting a new space endurance record.
- June 26, 1995 - Space Shuttle Atlantis rendezvous
with Russian space station Mir during a ten-day mission
on STS-71. Cosmonauts are transferred to and from Atlantis,
and Astronaut Norman Thagard is returned from Mir, having
arrived on Soyuz-TM 21, and making a new American space
endurance record of 115 days.
- September 1995 - Pioneer 11 ceases making scientific
observations, its power source nearly depleted.
- November 12, 1995 - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts
off on mission STS-74, making the second docking with Russian
space station Mir. It delivers two solar arrays, and a
docking module for future Shuttle dockings.
- December 7, 1995 - The Galileo spacecraft arrives
at Jupiter, performing an orbit while dropping a probe into the
atmosphere, and putting a satellite into orbit, which will spend
the next two years orbiting the planet.
- February 8, 1996 - Thomas Reiter becomes the first European
Space Agency astronaut to make two spacewalks (both from the Russian
Mir space station). His previous spacewalk was on October
21, 1995, and lasted 5 hours 11 minutes.
- February 17, 1996 - NASA launches the first in the Discovery
series of spacecraft, the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)
spacecraft, aboard a Delta II-7925-8 rocket.
- March 22, 1996 - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts
off on STS-76, performing the third docking with Space Station
Mir. Astronaut Shannon Lucid was left on Mir, becoming
the first female Astronaut to crew a Space Station.
- September 26, 1996 - Space Shuttle Atlantis touches
down after mission STS-79. It brings back Shannon Lucid, who becomes
the longest US astronaut in space, and the longest female astronaut
- November 19, 1996 - Space Shuttle Columbia lifts
off on its 21st space flight, setting a new shuttle
in-space endurance record of almost 18 days. This flight carries
Story Musgrave, at that time the oldest man to fly in space at
61 years of age.
- January 12, 1997 - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts
off for the fifth docking with the Mir space station, and Jerry
Linenger replaces John Blaha as the American crew member.
- February 10, 1997 - Soyuz TM25 lifts off to dock
with the Mir space station. New Russian crew members Vasily
Tsibliyev and Alexander Lazutkin relieve Russians Korzun and Kaleri
for the beginning of an eventful and difficult tour of duty. Before
the resident crew leaves, a fierce fire breaks out on board which
is contained and put out before serious damage is done. After
the old crew leaves, an attempt to re-dock with the Progress supply
freighter fails, with the freighter just missing collision with
Mir. These events are followed by failures of the electrolysis
oxygen generators and the station's attitude control system.
- February 11, 1997 - Space Shuttle Discovery lifts
off on the second maintenance mission for the Hubble Space
Telescope, installing a new spectrograph, infrared camera,
new guidance sensors, a new computer and data recorder, and repairing
the telescope's insulation.
- March 31, 1997 - After 25 years of operation, routine
telemetry and ground control with Pioneer 10 is terminated.
The probe at that moment is 6.7 billion miles from Earth, traveling
at 28,000 miles per hour. In two million years, it will reach
the red giant Aldeberan in the constellation of Taurus.
- April 4, 1997 - Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off
for the shortest shuttle flight in 12 years (four days). The flight
is cut short due to a failure of one of the spacecraft's three
- May 17, 1997 - Space Shuttle Atlantis performs
its sixth docking with Mir. Jerry Linenger is relieved by Michael
Foale as the American crewmember on Mir. Atlantis returned
to Earth on May 24th and Mir continued with
its troubles. On June 24th, the crew attempts a test
with a new docking system to dock with a Progress freighter. The
failure of the new system results in the collision of the freighter
into Mir, causing a serious air leak and damage to the
electrical power of the station.
- June 27, 1997 - NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous)
probe passes the asteroid Mathilde on its way to meeting up with
- July 1, 1997 - Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off
again to complete the flight aborted in April. The shuttle is
outfitted with Spacelab, set up as a microgravity science
laboratory, with 33 different experiments, that fills the cargo
- July 4, 1997 - Mars Pathfinder becomes the first
probe to successfully land on Mars since Viking 2 in 1976.
It is also the first planetary probe to include a separate roving
robot probe (Sojourner) since the Soviet Union's Luna
21 in 1973.
- August 7, 1997 - Soyuz TM26 arrives at Mir
with a relief crew. The fresh Russian crew, along with Michael
Foale, undertake seven internal and external spacewalk missions
over a six month period in order to repair the crippled station.
During the repairs, the station has a near collision with an abandoned
satellite (MSTI 2), which speeds past to within 500 meters
- August 7, 1997 - Space Shuttle Discovery lifts
off for a 12-day mission to deploy and retrieve the Crista-Spas
2 satellite, which studied the Earth's middle atmosphere.
This flight also tested various infra-red and ultraviolet instrumentation,
and tested the Japanese robot-arm to be used for the International
- September 12, 1997 - Mars Global Surveyor arrives
at Mars and begins the process of adjusting its highly elliptical
orbit into a circular one using aerobraking - friction with the
top of the Martian atmosphere to slow the craft down. Taking about
2,000 images of the planet, this probe shows the entire life of
a dust storm, evidence of Martian streams, ponds, oceans, and
underground water drainage systems.
- September 27, 1997 - Space Shuttle Atlantis performs
its seventh docking with Mir to support the repair & upgrade
process, and bringing additional experiments for the space station.
- October 15, 1997 - launch of the double probe Cassini/Huygens,
aimed at Saturn. This is probably the most ambitious and complex
unmanned planetary project ever attempted, costing more than $2.5
billion and involving 17 nations and hundreds of scientists from
the U.S. and Europe. It carries a sophisticated camera package
and 11 other instruments aimed at performing 19 experiments on
the ringed planet. It will arrive at Saturn in 2004, will orbit
Saturn up to 60 times sending back close-up photographs of Saturn's
rings and its 18 moons. Cassini also carries a separate
probe, Huygens. This probe will be dropped through the
atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
- November 19, 1997 - Space Shuttle Columbia lifts
off with three American astronauts, one Japanese, and the first
Ukrainian astronaut, Leonid Kadenyuk. This mission, mostly dedicated
to science and the testing of new space technologies, releases
one free-flying satellite.
- January 7, 1998 - Lunar Prospector is the first
NASA mission to the Moon in 25 years, and the first dedicated
to lunar research since Apollo 17 in 1972. The spacecraft
is placed in lunar orbit to make a careful spectroscopic analysis
of the entire lunar surface, including its North and South poles,
and soon confirms what the Department of Defense Clementine mission
had found in 1994 - that trapped within some of the craters at
the Moon's two poles is about 6.6 trillion tons of permanently
frozen water ice.
- January 22, 1998 - Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts
off to rendezvous with Mir, the eight U.S. docking with
the Russian space station and the first by a shuttle other than
- February 14, 1998 - The four satellites Globalstar
1, 2, 3, and 4 are the first in Globalstar's planned 44-satellite
constellation of medium-Earth-orbit (~900 miles altitude) communications
satellites for providing voice and data links worldwide from both
remote and home telephones. This system is planned as a direct
competitor to Iridium's cluster, which began launching in May
- April 17, 1998 - Space Shuttle Columbia lifts
off on a 16-day mission, its 25th. The mission is dedicated
to the study of the effects of weightlessness on the human neurological
system, with the astronauts serving as both researchers and experimental
- June 2, 1998 - Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off
on a 10-day mission, its 24th and the last shuttle
docking with Mir.
- July 3, 1998 - Japan launches the Nozomi probe
to Mars, the first planetary mission by a country other than the
U.S. or the Soviet Union/Russia. Using a combination of lunar
gravity, Earth gravity, and rocket burns, Nozomi is scheduled
to arrive at Mars in December 2003.
- October 3, 1998 - Launched by the U.S. National Reconnaissance
Office, the Space Technology EXperiment (STEX) satellite
tests 29 new spacecraft designs, including an almost four-mile-long
tether, advanced solar panels, and an ion engine test.
- October 24, 1998 - NASA launches Deep Space 1,
a technology test spacecraft which evaluates a dozen advanced
spacecraft engineering designs, from mirror-enhanced solar panels
to the first use of an ion engine to leave Earth orbit and rendezvous
with the asteroid Braille.
- October 29, 1998 - Space Shuttle Discovery lifts
off with John Glenn aboard, first American to orbit Earth and
at 77, the oldest man to fly in space. The flight is the last
purely scientific shuttle flight, focusing on astronomy, life
sciences, and materials. One satellite is deployed, one is released
and retrieved. Most subsequent shuttle flights are ferry and construction
flights for the International Space Station.
- November 20, 1998 - the first component of the International
Space Station, Zarya, is launched on a Russian rocket.
This Russian built, U.S. financed module provides communications,
electrical power, and attitude control for the station until the
arrival of the third module (Zvezda, in July 2000).
- December 4, 1998 - Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts
off on its thirteenth space flight, with the International Space
Station's second module, Unity. This module provides the
docking ports and connections for every other docked module.
- December 11, 1998 - Mars Climate Orbiter is launched
by NASA, with the objective of studying Martian weather. The probe
is lost as it approaches Mars on September 23, 1999, due to an
error in propulsion software, using English instead of metric
units. The probe passes too close to Mars and burns up in the
- December 23, 1998 - NEAR space probe flies to
within 2400 miles of the asteroid 433 Eros, taking 222 photographs
of nearly two-thirds of its surface. A software problem prevents
the spacecraft from going into orbit around the asteroid, but
a second engine burn on January 3, 1999 brings the spacecraft
back to Eros in February of 2000.
- January 3, 1999 - Mars Polar Lander lifts off
on its ill-fated mission to Mars. This NASA probe is to land within
about 600 miles of the Martian South Pole, along with dropping
two surface-penetrating darts. Contact with the probe is lost
on December 3, 1999 as it is descending through the Martian atmosphere
and it is never heard from again, the first failure of a U.S.
planetary soft landing in 30 years.
- February 7, 1999 - The NASA satellite Stardust
lifts off for a rendezvous with the Comet Wild-2 in January of
- February 20, 1999 - the Russian Soyuz TM29 lifts
off for the Mir space station. This is scheduled to be
the final mission to Mir, and when the crew of TM29
departs Mir in August of 1999, they leave the space station
empty for the first time in almost exactly 10 years.
- May 27, 1999 - Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off
for the International Space Station. They bring supplies and perform
a spacewalk of nearly eight hours to install two exterior cranes,
along with a variety of tools and equipment for future astronaut
use. They deploy the satellite Starshine for studying atmospheric
- July 23, 1999 - Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off,
carrying the Chandra X-Ray Observatory into orbit.
- July 28, 1999 - Deep Space 1 flies to within 16
miles of the asteroid Braille and continues on its course to rendezvous
with Comet Wilson-Harrington in January 2001.
- November 19, 1999 - China launches Shenzhou, the
first unmanned test of their manned capsule.
- December 19, 1999 - Space Shuttle Discovery lifts
off for the third maintenance mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.
They perform three space walks, installing six new gyroscopes,
a new guidance sensor, a new computer, a voltage/temperature kit
for the spacecraft's batteries, a new transmitter, a new solid
state recorder, and thermal insulation blankets.
- January 3, 2000 - the Galileo space probe safely
completes its encounter with Jupiter's ice moon, Europa, at an
altitude of 343 km. Later in the year, on May 30, Galileo
flies by Jupiter's largest moon Ganymede at an altitude of 808
- February 11, 2000 - Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts
off to carry out the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, cosponsored
by NASA and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. A large radar
antenna in the payload bay and a smaller element deployed on a
60-meter boom work together in the synthetic-aperture mode to
produce the effect of a much larger antenna. The mission produces
a three-dimensional map of about 80% of the world's landmass.
- February 14, 2000 - NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous)
probe settles into orbit around the asteroid 433 Eros, producing
a series of stunning close-up images. Ground controllers start
tightening its orbit for an eventual soft impact with the tumbling,
- April 4, 2000 - Soyuz TM30 lifts off on a return
mission to Mir, reversing Russia's actions of the previous
year to shut the space station down. The idea is to re-open the
space station for commercial operations, including a Mir
version of the Survivor TV show. The cosmonauts remain
until mid-June, and two Progress freighters are flown up
(one in April, one in October) before financial support disappears
and the venture falls through.
- May 19, 2000 - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off
for the International Space Station for maintenance on
the crane and a faulty antenna, installation of a Russian boom
arm, handrails and upgrades to the ventilation system, and delivery
of new batteries, supplies and equipment.
- July 12, 2000 - the Zvezda service module for
the International Space Station (ISS) is launched from
Russia on a Proton rocket. The automated docking of this
unit with the first linked pair of modules already in orbit -
Zarya and Unity - allows the U.S. to start a series
of space shuttle launches to add American-built components, which
will be followed by laboratory modules from Europe and Japan.
Zvezda will act as the control center and living quarters
for the initial space station crews.
- September 8, 2000 - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts
off on a 12-day mission to outfit the ISS, completing the installation
of the Zvezda module.
- October 11, 2000 - Space Shuttle Discovery lifts
off on a 14-day mission to install the Z1 segment, the first piece
of the space station truss, and a third docking port (PMA-3) for
the Unity adapter. They also test the new 'SAFER' spacesuit
backpack propulsion units.
- October 31, 2000 - the Expedition One crew is
launched on a Soyuz transport to become the first crew
of the ISS.
- December 1, 2000 - Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts
off on a 12 day mission to the ISS. They install the first
set of ISS's solar panels and radiators for removing heat.
- January 9, 2001 - the first launch of the "true" millenium
is Chinese, with the second test flight of the manned Shenshou
spaceship, reported to be carrying a monkey, a dog, and a rabbit.
- February 7, 2001 - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts
off for the ISS, carrying the U.S.'s Destiny laboratory
module. In three space walks the astronauts install Destiny,
a grappler for the station's robotic arm, and radio antennae.
- February 14, 2001 - NEAR soft impacts on the
asteroid 433 Eros, at 2 m/s. Signals continue to be received from
the probe hours after the landing, confirming its survival.
- March 8, 2001 - Space Shuttle Discovery is launched
on a 14-day ISS construction mission. In two spacewalks
the astronauts install new equipment including the Leonardo
logistics module, built by the Italian Space Agency to move racks
of experimental equipment to the ISS, docking to the station
as the equipment is used & transferred, then carrying equipment
back in the shuttle after use.
- March 23, 2001 - fifteen years after its first launch,
and after nearly 10 years of continuous occupation by astronauts,
the Mir space station is de-orbited, breaking up in the
atmosphere and impacting in the Pacific Ocean.
- April 7, 2001 - the 2001 Mars Odyssey probe is
launched on a trajectory for Mars orbit to be achieved in October,
with a mission similar to that of the Mars Climate Orbiter
launched December 1998. Mars Odyssey successfully enters
Mars orbit on October 24th.
- April 19, 2001 - Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts
off for the ISS on a construction mission. The crew will
install the mobile robotic arm on the station (Canadarm 2)
and supply the Destiny laboratory module with new experiments,
using the Rafaello logistics module.
- April 28, 2001 - Soyuz spacecraft TM-32
lifts off for the ISS with the first space tourist, business
executive Dennis Tito, who pays the Russians $20 million for the
- June 30, 2001 - NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe
(MAP) is launched on a trajectory for a gravity boost past
the moon to a position 1.5 million km outside Earth's orbit. From
that position it is to measure cosmic background radiation from
the dark extragalactic sky.
- July 12, 2001 - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off
in the pre-dawn darkness for the ISS with the Joint Airlock
which will enable space walks to be performed directly from the
space station itself (I am there to watch the launch!).
- August 10, 2001 - Space Shuttle Discovery lifts
off for the ISS with the Leonardo laboratory module
and SimpleSat, an experimental low-cost astronomical telescope.
- September 22, 2001 - Deep Space 1 successfully
completes its flyby of comet 19P/Borrelly.
- October 16, 2001 - Galileo completes another flyby
of Jupiter's moon Io, passing only 181 km from Io's south polar
- December 5, 2001 - Space Shuttle Endeavour is
launched carrying the Raffaello logistics module back to the ISS
with new supplies.
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