Human Spaceflight Fast Facts

Updated 12:38 PM EDT, Sun July 11, 2021
CNN —  

Here’s a look at human spaceflight programs in the United States and around the world.


The United States ended its crewed space shuttle program with the launch of Atlantis on July 8, 2011, and landing on July 21, 2011.

China and Russia are the only other countries to have independent spaceflight capabilities.

India and Iran have both announced their plans to send a crewed spacecraft into space.


October 1, 1958 - The official start of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

May 25, 1961 - US President John F. Kennedy addresses Congress: “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

1958-1963 - NASA’s Project Mercury. The first manned program’s objectives include orbiting a crewed spacecraft around Earth, investigating man’s ability to function in space and recovering both man and spacecraft safely.

April 12, 1961 - Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is the first human in space aboard Vostok 1. He spends 108 minutes in space and makes one orbit around the earth.

May 5, 1961 - Project Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard is the first American in space aboard Freedom 7. He spends 15 minutes in sub-orbital flight.

February 20, 1962 - Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn is the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7. He spends four hours and 55 minutes in space and orbits the earth three times.

1962-1966 - The goals of NASA’s Gemini program include subjecting man and equipment to space flight up to two weeks in duration, docking with orbiting vehicles and gaining additional information concerning the effects of weightlessness on crew members.

June 16, 1963 - Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is the first woman in space, aboard Vostok 6. She spends 70 hours in space and orbits the earth 48 times.

1963-1972 - NASA’s Apollo program seeks to establish the technology to meet other national interests in space, to carry out a program of scientific exploration of the Moon and to develop man’s capability to work in the lunar environment.

March 18, 1965 - Soviet Alexei Leonov is the first man to walk in space.

June 3, 1965 - Ed White becomes the first American to walk in space, during Gemini 4.

December 24, 1968 - Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders become the first humans to orbit the moon.

July 20, 1969 - Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins are the first humans to land on the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin are the first to walk on the moon.

April 1971 - Salyut, a crewed orbiting space lab, is launched by the Soviet Union.

1972 - NASA’s Space Shuttle program formally begins in 1972, under President Richard Nixon.

1973-1974 - NASA’s Skylab program. Three missions are completed, with astronauts spending a total of 171 days in space. Its objectives are to prove that humans can live and work in space for extended periods and to broaden knowledge of solar astronomy well beyond Earth-based observations.

April 12, 1981 - The Space Shuttle Columbia is the first to go to space and the first space shuttle to orbit the earth during mission STS-1.

June 18-24, 1983 - Sally Ride is first American woman in space aboard mission STS-7.

January 28, 1986 - The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes, killing the seven astronauts onboard, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, chosen for NASA’s “Teacher in Space” program.

October 29, 1998 - Glenn, at 77, becomes the oldest human ever to go into space, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

April 28, 2001 - Dennis Tito becomes the first “space tourist,” paying $20 million to ride on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station (ISS).

February 1, 2003 - The Columbia breaks up upon reentry during mission STS-107, killing all seven crew members. It is the second loss of a shuttle in 113 shuttle flights.

October 15, 2003 - Yang Liwei is the first Chinese man in space aboard Shenzhou 5.

July 21, 2011 - With the landing of the 135th and final space shuttle mission, the US space shuttle program ends.

June 2012 - China plans to launch the Shenzhou 9, carrying three taikonauts/astronauts, on course to rendezvous with Tiangong-1, a mini-space station, in their first crewed space docking venture. Two crews prepare for the mission, each with a female crewman; Major Liu Wang and Captain Wang Yaping, both Air Force fighter pilots.

June 16, 2012 - China launches Shenzhou 9 with a crew of three, Liu Wang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang, from the launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in western Gansu province. Liu Wang is the first female taikonaut to go into space.

June 11, 2013 - The Chinese launch the Shenzhou 10 mission, their fifth and longest crewed space mission, with three crew members: Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping.

July 29, 2016 - NASA places an order with SpaceX for a crewed mission to the ISS. It’s the fourth and final order under a government-funded program that contracts with private companies with the goal of launching astronauts from US soil again. SpaceX has received two of those orders, and Boeing won the other two. The two companies are expected to launch astronauts in 2019.

September 1, 2016 - A SpaceX rocket explodes at its Cape Canaveral launch pad during a test firing. The explosion destroys the rocket and the satellite it was due to launch September 3, 2016.

March 2019 - US President Donald Trump’s administration announces it wants to send American astronauts back to the moon in five years. The previous target was 2028.

May 30, 2020 - SpaceX and NASA launch Falcon 9, a rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft with two astronauts on board. This is the first launch from US soil since 2011.

August 2, 2020 - SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft splashes down into the Gulf of Mexico, ending a historic two-month mission. This is the first time in history that a commercially developed spacecraft carried humans into Earth’s orbit.

November 15, 2020 - A SpaceX spacecraft launches from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, marking the kick off of what NASA hopes will be years of the company helping to keep the ISS fully staffed. This is a landmark mission for NASA and the company because it is the first fully operational crewed mission for SpaceX.

May 2, 2021 - The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule returns from outer space and makes a parachute landing in the Gulf of Mexico, returning four astronauts from a record-setting mission to the ISS. The astronauts’ safe return marks the end to NASA and SpaceX’s landmark mission, dubbed Crew-1, which set a record as the longest time in space – over 5 months – by a crew that launched aboard an American-built spacecraft.

July 11, 2021 - Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity space plane, carrying founder Richard Branson of Virgin Group, Ltd. and three colleagues, launches from Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. After a successful detachment from its mothership WhiteKnightTwo, the space plane makes a return landing at Spaceport America.