American Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fueled rocket. Goddard had written the influential A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes in 1919, following Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's work, The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices, as early as 1903. Both were inspired by fictional space travel: HG Wells' The War of the Worlds and Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon respectively
The Reich Institute for Chemistry and Technology officially tests the Kegeldüse rocket engine on 23 July 1930. The conical combustion chamber dreamed up by Hermann Oberth in the preceeding year, burned for 90 seconds. One of Oberth's assistants was the eighteen-year-old Wernher von Braun who later said, 'Hermann Oberth was the first, who when thinking about the possibility of spaceships, grabbed a slide-rule and presented mathematically analyzed concepts and designs.... I, myself, owe to him not only the guiding-star of my life, but also my first contact with the theoretical and practical aspects of rocketry and space travel. A place of honour should be reserved in the history of science and technology for his ground-breaking contributions in the field of astronautics'. TV's Star Trek would later include Oberth-class starships in his honour.
Moscow-based Group for the Study of Reactive Motion (abbreviated as ГИРД or GIRD) is the world's first large professional rocketry programme. In 1933, the group launched their first liquid-fueled rocket, the GIRD-X. The research was led by Sergei Korolev. The well known cradle of Soviet space flight, Korolyov, was named after him.
The V2 rocket is the first human-built object to enter outer space, crossing the Kármán line (100km above sea level). Sadly it was used as a Nazi war weapon killing thousands in London and Antwerp in the six months from September 1944.
The first animals in space are fruit flies, launched by the USA. The adapted V2 rocket reached a height of 109km in 3 minutes and 10 seconds, before the Blossom capsule ejected and successfully deployed its parachute. The fruit flies were recovered alive. Over the next few years, rockets are launched carrying mice and monkeys.
The USSR launches the first artificial object to be intentionally placed into orbit. Sputnik 1 was a polished metal sphere, 58 cm in diameter, that broadcast radio pulses. The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on October 4, 1957. The satellite was seen and its radio pulses heard all around the world. The launch surprised many, especially in the USA which increased spending on science and technology as the'Space Race' got underway. Sputnik was more than a propaganda coup, providing valuable scientific data on the ionosphere and the density of the upper atmosphere. It spent 3 months in orbit before burning up on reentering the Earth's atmosphere.
Another first for the USSR as Laika the dog becomes the first animal in Earth orbit. The experiment aimed to prove that a living being could survive being launched into orbit and endure weightlessness, paving the way for human spaceflight. However it was controversial as Sputnik 2 and its passenger was not designed to be retrievable.
First firing of a rocket in Earth orbit, as the USSR's Luna 1 probe is the first object to reach Earth escape velocity. It makes the first detection of solar wind. Later that year, Luna 2 is first artifical object to reach the moon.
Explorer 6 takes the first pictures of Earth from orbit. Part of the satellite's mission was a scanning device designed for photographing the Earth's cloud cover
Ham the Astrochimp is the first Hominidae launched into space as part of the US's Project Mercury. Although the capsule suffered a partial loss of pressure during the 16 minute flight, Ham's space suit prevented him from suffering any harm, splashing down alive in the Atlantic. Ham's lever-pushing performance in space was only a fraction of a second slower than on Earth, demonstrating that tasks could be performed in space.
The 12 April 1961 sees the first human spaceflight with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin making one orbit around the Earth aboard the USSR's Vostok 1 spacecraft. Gagarin became an international celebrity, and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation's highest honour.
former textile worker, Valentina Tereshkova, becomes the first woman in space. Her Soviet craft, Vostok 6, circles the Earth some 49 times during three days in space. This single flight logs more time in space than the combined total of all American astronauts who had flown before that date.
Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov ventures out of the Voskhod 2 spacecraft to perform the first ever spacewalk. Leonov's suit inflates in space and he has to bleed air from the suit to get back in the airlock.
US astronauts Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee are killed as an Apollo command module is consumed by fire during a test on the launch pad. Three months later, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies when his Soyuz 1 spacecraft crashes into the ground returning from space.
Apollo 11 makes the first human landing on the Moon. US crew members Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin spend two hours on the lunar surface collecting rock samples and setting up observation equipment, while a third member of the crew remained in the Command Module in lunar orbit. Armstrong steps out of the Eagle lander with the famous words, 'That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind'. The USA would send a further five manned missions to land on the moon between 1969 and 1972.
After several failed missions, the first soft landing on Venus is achieved. The Soviet Venera 7 sends back a temperature reading of 470°C at the surface, a far cry from the Earth-like conditions imagined in earlier 20th century fiction. Some 23 minutes of weak signals are received after the spacecraft's landing on Venus. It is the first man-made spacecraft to land successfully on another planet, transmitting data back to Earth.
The US Pioneer 10 probe becomes the first space vehicle to fly past Jupiter, fifth planet from the sun. The largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter is two and a half times the mass of all its other planets combined. Communication with Pioneer 10 was maintained until it lost power in 2003 having travelled 12 billion kilometers from Earth.
After decades of competition, the US and USSR come together as astronaut Thomas Stafford greets cosmonaut Alexei Leonov in the hatchway of their docked Apollo and Soyuz spacecrafts.
The first of two 'Viking' automated probes touches down on the surface of Mars on 20 July. Its twin, Viking 2, lands several weeks later. They collect soil samples and send back the first photos taken from the surface of Mars.
The world's first reusable manned spacecraft, the US space shuttle Columbia, lifts off on its maiden voyage. The shuttle was blasted into space like a conventional rocket but then glided home to land like a plane.
The US sends its first woman in space, some 21 years after the USSR, as Sally Ride crews the space shuttle Challenger. At a prelaunch press conference, she was asked 'Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?' despite being a hightly trained astronaut with a PhD in physics on the interaction of X-rays with the interstellar medium. She would spend a total of more than 343 hours in space and co-authored six books on space aimed at encouraging children to study science.
The space shuttle Challenger explodes, killing its seven astronauts. Flights are halted to investigate the cause of the disaster, eventually traced to a faulty rocket booster seal. Meanwhile US Voyager 2 probe is the first to make a close approach to the seventh planet from the Sun, Uranus. In February, the Soviet Union launches its space station, Mir, into Earth orbit. Its six docking stations allow later expansion modules to increase size and capability.
European Space Agency's Giotto spacecraft comes with 600km of the nucleus of Halley's Comet. The comet is visible to the naked eye from Earth every 75–76 years and has been observed by astronomers since at least 240BC.
Two years after flights resume, the space shuttle Discovery launches the Hubble Space Telescope. Initially dogged by a fault with its mirror, it is now regarded as one of the most important astronomical tools in history. Hubble's orbit outside the Earth's distorting atmosphere allows extremely high-resolution images with almost no background light, allowing a deep view into space and time. Hubble observations have led to several astrophysics breakthroughs, not least accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe. Its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is scheduled to be launched in 2018.
Helen Sharman from Sheffield is Britain's first astronaut, blasting off on a Soviet rocket from Baikonur. Her Soyuz capsule docks with the Mir space station the next day.
Cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov sets an unsurpassed record for the most consecutive days in space. His trip lasted 437 days, 17 hours, 58 minutes mostly aboard the Russian space station Mir.
Zarya, the first module of the International Space Station (ISS), launches on a Proton rocket from Baikonur. The Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement built on previous cooperation bringing together USA, Russia, Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency. However the US has blocked Chinese involvement.
US space shuttle Columbia disintegrates as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board. The thermal protection system had been damaged by debris during the launch. In the aftermath, construction of the International Space Station was put on hold, and for 29 months the station relied entirely on the Russian Federal Space Agency for resupply until shuttle flights resumed
China becomes the third country to launch a human into space as the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft carries 'yuhangyuan' (astronaut) Yang Liwei into orbit for 21 hours.
Europe's Huygens probe touches down safely on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. This is the farthest from Earth any spacecraft has made a controlled landing. The second part of a joint NASA-ESA-ASI mission, the Cassini probe, is the first probe to enter Saturn orbit having been launched in October 1997. The probes have returned a wealth of data on Saturn and its moons as well as Jupiter, the heliosphere, and testing the theory of relativity.
The latest achievement in China's developing space programme sees Zhai Zhigang carry out their first spacewalk, spending 20 minutes outside the Shenzhou 7 capsule in a Chinese-developed Feitian space suit.
Indian probe Chandrayaan-1 successfully achieves lunar orbit, the first of several missions to the moon. Since its formation in 1969, the Indian Space Research Organisation has become one of the largest governmental space agencies with a successful launch vehicle programme.
Nasa launches a space observatory to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars in our region of the Milky Way. Dubbed Kepler, it constantly monitors the brightness of over 145,000 stars in a fixed field of view. Any periodic dimming is analysed on Earth to see if it is caused by extrasolar planets that cross in front of their host star. In November 2013, the Kepler data lead astronomers to report there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets within the Milky Way Galaxy orbiting in the habitable zones of their stars.
On 25 August 2012, Voyager 1 crosses the heliopause (boundary of the Sun's solar wind). It is the first manmade object to enter interstellar space and is over 125 AU away from Earth. Launched in 1977, Voyager 1's original mission was to visit Saturn and Jupiter but it is still sending back useful scientific data today. Sister ship Voyager 2 is also on an extended mission, studying the boundaries of the Solar System, including the Kuiper belt, the heliosphere and interstellar space.
India launches the Mars Orbiter Mission, expanding the ISRO's technical capability and aiming to study the Martian surface and atmosphere. It will be joined by the US probe Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), studying the historical loss of atmosphere and water. Several orbiters and landers are planned to the Moon and Mars, including the Chinese Chang'e 3 lunar rover which would be the first landing on the moon since the Russian Luna 24 in 1976.
A trio of European Space Agency satellites are launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The Swarm mission will study Earth's magnetic field which protects the upper atmosphere from cosmic rays. Scientific data will be valuable in studying why the field appears to be weakening and whether we are on the cusp of a polarity reversal with North becoming South.
Yutu ('Jade Rabbit'), China's first moon rover, rolls out onto the lunar surface after the Chang'e-3 probe soft-landed on the lunar surface. It marks humanity's return to the moon after a 27 year absence.