4th century BC

The Greek mathematician Archytas creates a wooden pigeon that is propelled by escaping steam, an early example of rocket technology. 

2nd century AD

The Syrian writer Lucian of Samosata publishes A True Story, a satirical novel that includes the first known fictional references to outer space travel.

1232

The Chinese become the first people to use gunpowder-fueled rockets for martial purposes.

1897

The Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky correctly theorizes that rockets can function in a vacuum, unlike other forms of propulsion. 

Dr. Robert H. Goddard and his liquid-fueled rocket in the frame from which it was fired on March 16, 1926, at Auburn, Mass.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard and his liquid-fueled rocket in the frame from which it was fired on March 16, 1926, at Auburn, Mass.

Courtesy of NASA

March 16, 1926

The American engineer Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fueled rocket. 

June 20, 1944

During World War II, Germany’s V-2 becomes the first craft to achieve spaceflight (usually defined as 62 miles above sea level). At the end of the war, many of the German rocket scientists who worked on it were recruited for the American and Russian rocket programs. 

February 20, 1947

Fruit flies aboard a U.S. V-2 rocket become the first animals to travel in outer space. 

October 4, 1957

The U.S.S.R. launches Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, starting the space race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. 

November 3, 1957

Laika, a mixed-breed dog, becomes the first animal to orbit the earth. Hours later she also becomes the first animal to die in orbit. 

America first satellite, <em>Explorer I.</em>

America’s first satellite, Explorer I.

Courtesy of NASA

January 31, 1958

The U.S. launches its first artificial satellite, Explorer I. 

October 11, 1958

NASA’s first spacecraft, Pioneer I, is launched from Cape Canaveral. Though it reaches outer space, a programming error prevents it from reaching the moon. 

Between December 1958 and April 1961, the <em>Juno II</em> launched space probes <em>Pioneer III</em> and <em>IV,</em> as well as <em>Explorer</em> satellites <em>VII, VIII</em> and <em>XI.</em>

Between December 1958 and April 1961, the Juno II launched space probes Pioneer III and IV, as well as Explorer satellites VII, VIII, and XI.

Courtesy of NASA

1959

The Soviet Union and the U.S. independently launch unmanned probes to the moon. The Soviets conduct the first flyby of the moon in January; the U.S. repeats the feat in March. In September a Soviet spacecraft intentionally crash-lands on the moon, becoming the first man-made object to touch the surface of another celestial body. 

April 12, 1961

Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, becomes the first human to reach space and complete one orbit of the earth. 

May 5, 1961

Alan B. Shepard Jr. becomes the first American to reach space. 

May 25, 1961

President John F. Kennedy announces his determination to put a man on the moon. 

February 20, 1962

John H. Glenn Jr. becomes the first American to orbit the earth. 

April 26, 1962

The Ranger 4 crash-lands on the moon, becoming the first U.S. craft to reach another celestial body.

18th March 1965: Russian astronaut Alexei Leonov becomes the first man to walk in space on March 18, 1965.

Russian astronaut Alexei Leonov becomes the first man to walk in space on March 18, 1965.

Central Press/Getty

March 18, 1965

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov becomes the first person to conduct a space walk.

June 3, 1965

San Antonio native Edward H. White II becomes the first U.S. astronaut to conduct a space walk.

July 15, 1965

The American spacecraft Mariner 4 successfully conducts the first flyby of Mars. 

February 3, 1966

The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 becomes the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the moon.

A model of the Surveyor 1 spacecraft.

A model of the Surveyor 1 spacecraft.

Courtesy of NASA

June 2, 1966

Surveyor 1 becomes the first American spacecraft to soft-land on the moon. 

January 27, 1967

A flash fire breaks out during an Apollo 1 simulation at Kennedy Space Center, killing the three astronauts aboard. 

April 24, 1967

The Soviet Union’s Vladimir Komarov becomes the first astronaut to die in-flight when his ship, Soyuz 1, crashes on its descent.

December 24, 1968

Apollo 8 becomes the first manned spacecraft to successfully orbit the moon. 

Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed U.S. flag during Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.

Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.

Courtesy of NASA

July 20, 1969

Apollo 11 becomes the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon. 

April 17, 1970

The crew of Apollo 13 safely returns to Earth after the rupture of an oxygen tank damages several of the craft’s power, electrical, and life-support systems. 

June 30, 1971

The three astronauts on the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 11 become the first—and so far the only—people to die in space when their capsule depressurized prior to reentering Earth’s atmosphere.

November 13, 1971

The American spacecraft Mariner 9 becomes the first craft to orbit another planet, Mars. 

November 27, 1971

The Soviet Union’s Mars 2 vehicle, which was expected to make a soft landing on Mars, crashes onto the planet’s surface, becoming the first spacecraft to touch another planet.

December 2, 1971

The Soviet Union’s Mars 3 becomes the first spacecraft to attain a soft landing on Mars.

December 7, 1972

Apollo 17 takes flight as the last of the six successful Apollo missions to the moon. 

July 20, 1976

The Viking 1 lander touches down on the surface of Mars, the first U.S. craft to do so.

The space shuttle <em>Columbia</em> launches on April 12, 1981 manned with two astronauts, John Young and Robert Crippen.

The space shuttle Columbia launches on April 12, 1981, manned with two astronauts, John Young and Robert Crippen.

Courtesy of NASA

April 12, 1981

The space shuttle Columbia launches as the first operational flight of the U.S. shuttle program.

January 28, 1986

The Challenger shuttle explodes 73 seconds after takeoff, killing all seven crew members. 

1998

NASA begins working with Russia on the International Space Station.

2000

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos creates the aerospace company Blue Origin. In 2003 Blue Origin begins buying land in West Texas for an engine-test and suborbital-test-flight facility.

2002

Entrepreneur Elon Musk founds SpaceX with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars. 

February 1, 2003

The space shuttle Columbia breaks up over Texas. All seven crew members die.

August 4, 2014

SpaceX publicly announces it has chosen Boca Chica Village, Texas, near Brownsville, as the location for its new launch site. 

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.

Blue Origin founder—and Amazon.com founder and CEO—Jeff Bezos in Seattle, Washington, on June 18, 2014.

David Ryder/Getty

May 9, 2019

Bezos announces that Blue Origin is working on a manned moon landing vehicle called “Blue Moon,” which he expects to be in operation by 2024. It is the first step in Bezos’s plan to help humanity colonize the solar system.