Space Age

The Space Age is a period encompassing the activities related to the Space Race, space exploration, space technology, and the cultural developments influenced by these events, beginning with the launch of Sputnik 1 during 1957,[1][2] and continuing to the present.

The launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite marked the start of the Space Age.[1]
The signals of Sputnik 1 continued for 22 days.
The Space Shuttle lifts off on a manned mission to space.


The Space Age began with the development of several technologies that converged with the October 4, 1957 launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union. This was the world's first artificial satellite, orbiting the Earth in 96.17 minutes[3] and weighing 83 kg (183 lb). The launch of Sputnik 1 ushered in a new era of political, scientific and technological achievements that became known as the Space Age,[4] by the rapid development of new technology and a race for achievement, mostly between the United States and the Soviet Union.[4] Rapid advances were made in rocketry, materials science, and other areas. Much of the technology originally developed for space applications has been spun off and found additional uses. One such example is memory foam.

The Space Age reached its peak with the Apollo program that captured the imagination of much of the world's population. The landing of Apollo 11 was watched by over 500 million people around the world and is widely recognized as one of the defining moments of the 20th century. Since then, public attention has largely moved to other areas.[5]

In the United States, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 marked a significant decline in crewed Shuttle launches. Following the disaster, NASA grounded all Shuttles for safety concerns until 1988.[6] During the 1990s funding for space-related programs fell sharply as the remaining structures of the now-dissolved Soviet Union disintegrated and NASA no longer had any direct competition.

Since then, participation in space launches has increasingly widened to include more governments and commercial interests. Since the 1990s, the public perception of space exploration and space-related technologies has been that such endeavors are increasingly commonplace.[7]

NASA permanently grounded all U.S. Space Shuttles in 2011. NASA has since relied on Russia and SpaceX to take American astronauts to and from the International Space Station.[7][8]

Present periodEdit

In the early 21st century, the Ansari X Prize competition was set up to help jump-start private spaceflight.[9] The winner, Space Ship One in 2004, became the first spaceship not funded by a government agency.[10]

Several countries now have space programs; from related technology ventures to full-fledged space programs with launch facilities.[11] There are many scientific and commercial satellites in use today, with thousands of satellites in orbit, and several countries have plans to send humans into space.[12][13] Some of the countries joining this new race are France, India, China, Israel and the United Kingdom, all of which have employed surveillance satellites. There are several other countries with less extensive space programs, including Brazil, Germany, Ukraine, and Spain.[14]

As for the United States space program, NASA is currently constructing a deep-space crew capsule named the Orion. NASA's goal with this new space capsule is to carry humans to Mars. The Orion spacecraft is due to be completed in the early 2020s. NASA is hoping that this mission will “usher in a new era of space exploration.”[14]

Another major factor affecting the current Space Age is the privatization of space flight.[15] A significant private spaceflight company is SpaceX which became the proprietor of one of world's most capable operational launch vehicle when they launched their current largest rocket, the Falcon Heavy in 2018. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, has put forward the goal of establishing a colony of one million people on Mars and the company is developing its Starship launch vehicle to facilitate this. Since the Demo-2 mission for NASA in 2020 in which SpaceX launched astronauts for the first time to the International Space Station, the company has maintained an orbital human spaceflight capability. Blue Origin, a private company founded by founder Jeff Bezos, is developing rockets for use in space tourism, commercial satellite launches, and eventual missions to the Moon and beyond.[16] Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic is concentrating on launch vehicles for space tourism.[17] A spinoff company, Virgin Orbit, air-launches small satellites with their LauncherOne rocket. Another small-satellite launcher, Rocket Lab, has developed the Electron rocket and the Photon satellite bus for sending spacecraft further into the Solar System.


Date First ... Mission Person(s) Country
September 30, 1929 Successful public flight of a manned rocket-powered aircraft (Opel RAK.1)[18] Opel RAK, world's first large-scale rocket program[19] Julius Hatry (designer), Fritz von Opel (pilot and program head), Max Valier (program head) Germany
June 20, 1944 Artificial object in outer space, i.e. beyond the Kármán line V-2 rocket, test flight[20] – N/A Germany
October 24, 1946 Pictures from space (105 km)[21][22][23] U.S.-launched V-2 rocket from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. – N/A United States
February 20, 1947 Animals in space U.S.-launched V-2 rocket on 20 February 1947 from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.[24][25][26] - fruit flies United States
October 4, 1957 Artificial satellite Sputnik 1[27] – N/A Soviet Union
November 3, 1957[28] Animal in orbit Sputnik 2[29] Laika the dog Soviet Union
January 2, 1959 Lunar flyby, spacecraft to achieve a heliocentric orbit Luna 1[30] – N/A Soviet Union
September 12, 1959 Impact on the Lunar surface; thereby becoming the first human object to reach another celestial body Luna 2[31] – N/A Soviet Union
October 7, 1959 Pictures of the far side of the Moon Luna 3[32] – N/A Soviet Union
April 12, 1961 Human in space Vostok 1[33] Yuri Gagarin Soviet Union
May 5, 1961 Manual orientation of crewed spacecraft, human space mission that landed with pilot still in spacecraft, thus the first complete human spaceflight by FAI definitions[34][35] Freedom 7[36] Alan Shepard United States
December 14, 1962 Successful flyby of another planet (Venus closest approach 34,773 kilometers) Mariner 2[37] – N/A United States
March 18, 1965 Spacewalk Voskhod 2[38][39] Alexei Leonov Soviet Union
December 15, 1965 Space rendezvous Gemini 6A[40] and Gemini 7[40] Schirra, Stafford, Borman, Lovell United States
February 3, 1966 Soft landing on the Moon by a spacecraft Luna 9[41][42] – N/A Soviet Union
March 1, 1966 Human-made object to impact another planet Venera 3[43][44] – N/A Soviet Union
March 16, 1966 Orbital docking between two spacecraft Gemini 8[45] & Agena Target Vehicle[46] Neil Armstrong, David Scott United States
April 3, 1966 Artificial satellite of another celestial body (other than the Sun) Luna 10[47] – N/A Soviet Union
October 18, 1967 Spacecraft to perform transmit data from the atmosphere of another planet Venera 4[48] – N/A Soviet Union
December 21–27, 1968 Humans to enter the gravitational influence of another celestial body (the Moon) and orbit it Apollo 8 Borman, Lovell, Anders United States
July 20, 1969 Humans land and walk on another celestial body (Moon) Apollo 11[49] Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin United States
December 15, 1970 Telemetry from the surface of another planet Venera 7[50] – N/A Soviet Union
April 19, 1971 Operational space station Salyut 1[51][52] – N/A Soviet Union
June 7, 1971 Resident crew Soyuz 11 (Salyut 1) Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, Viktor Patsayev Soviet Union
July 20, 1976 Pictures from the surface of Mars Viking 1[53] – N/A United States
April 12, 1981 Reusable orbital spaceship STS-1[54] Young, Crippen United States
February 19, 1986 Long-duration space station Mir[55] – N/A Soviet Union
February 14, 1990 Photograph of the whole Solar System[56] Voyager 1[57] – N/A United States
November 20, 1998 Current space station International Space Station[58] – N/A Russia
August 25, 2012 Artificial space probe in interstellar space Voyager 1[59] – N/A United States
November 12, 2014 Artificial probe to make a planned and soft landing on a comet (67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko)[60] Rosetta[61] – N/A European Space Agency
July 14, 2015 Nation to have its space probes to explore all of the nine major planets recognized in 1981[62] New Horizons[63] – N/A United States
December 20, 2015 Vertical landing of an orbital rocket booster on a ground pad.[64] Falcon 9 flight 20[65] – N/A United States
April 8, 2016 Vertical landing of an orbital rocket booster on a floating platform at sea.[66] SpaceX CRS-8[67] – N/A United States
March 30, 2017 Relaunch and second landing of a used orbital rocket booster.[68] SES-10[69] – N/A United States
January 3, 2019 Soft landing on the lunar far side by a spacecraft. Chang'e 4[70][71] – N/A China
May 30, 2020 Human orbital spaceflight launched by a private company Crew Dragon Demo-2/Crew Demo-2/SpaceX Demo-2/Dragon Crew Demo-2[72] Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley United States
July 11, 2021 Commercial space tourism flight Virgin Galactic Unity 22[73] David Mackay, Michael Masucci, Sirisha Bandla, Colin Bennet, Beth Moses, Richard Branson United States
October 5, 2021 Feature-length fiction film shot in space (The Challenge) Soyuz MS-19[74] Anton Shkaplerov, Klim Shipenko, Yulia Peresild Russia

Earlier spaceflightsEdit

The Space Age might also be considered to have begun much earlier than October 4, 1957, because in June 1944, a German V-2 rocket became the first manmade object to enter space, albeit only briefly.[75] Some even consider March 1926 as the beginning of the Space Age, when American rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard launched the world's first liquid fuel rocket, though his rocket did not reach outer space.[76] Also already in the 1920s the world's first large-scale experimental rocket program, Opel RAK, was initiated under the leadership of Fritz von Opel and Max Valier. Speed records for ground and rail vehicles were achieved in 1928 and von Opel piloted the world's first public flight of a rocket plane, Opel RAK.1.[77] The Great Depression put an end to the Opel RAK program but it nevertheless had a strong and long-lasting impact on later spaceflight pioneers, in particular on Wernher von Braun who would eventually head the Nazi era V2 program.[78]

Opel RAK.1 - World's first public flight of a manned rocket-powered plane on September 30, 1929

Since the V-2 rocket flight was undertaken in secrecy, it was not public knowledge for many years afterward. Further, the German launches, as well as the subsequent sounding rocket tests performed in both the United States and the Soviet Union during the late 1940s and early 1950s, were not considered significant enough to start a new age because they did not reach orbit. Having a rocket powerful enough to reach orbit meant that a nation could place a payload anywhere on the planet, or to use another term, possessed an intercontinental ballistic missile. The fact that after such a development nowhere on Earth was safe from a nuclear warhead is why the orbital standard is commonly used to define when the space age began.[79]

Arts and architectureEdit

Iconic rocket ship-shaped tail lights and fins on a 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville
Satellite-influenced signage at the Town Motel in Birmingham, Alabama
TWA Moonliner II replica atop the restored TWA Corporate Headquarters building in Kansas City, MO, 2007

The Space Age is considered to have influenced:


The Space Age also inspired musical genres:

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit

Interactive mediaEdit