Since the launch of the USSR’s Sputnik in 1957, different space agencies have explored various parts of the universe and continue to do so. They have achieved remarkable feats such as touching the Moon, walking in space, exploring the red planet, recording signals from the outer solar system, and reaching different corners of the universe over time. In this article, Let’s see the top 10 iconic moments in the history of space exploration.
10Apollo 13 Space Rescue
Apollo 13 was the third space mission by NASA aimed at landing on the Moon. NASA launched the mission on April 17, 1970. However, after traveling 200000 miles, one of the oxygen tanks exploded, causing significant damage to the power systems and life-supporting equipment. The explosion also caused a pressure rise of 1000 times within the compartment.
Due to the damage, one of the fuel cells became unusable, making it almost impossible for the spacecraft to land safely on the Moon. As a result, the crew had to abort the mission and return to Earth. The situation worsened when NASA engineers confirmed that all the oxygen in Apollo 13 would run out before the crew could reach Earth. Fortunately, the crew managed to use the Lunar module to reach Earth by April 17.
9SpaceShipOne, First manned Private Flight
In 2004, SpaceShipOne became the first-ever manned private space flight, designed by Burt Rutan’s aerospace company, Scaled Composites. This event marked a significant turning point for private space travel as it flew at an altitude of 100,000 meters. On the one-hundredth anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight, it became the first aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound, a significant milestone in aviation history.
The space flight won the Ansari X Prize, worth $10 million, by flying as a suborbital plane with three passengers. It also became the first space flight to fly at an altitude of 50,000 feet with two turbojet White Knights, the mother ship. Mike Melvill piloted the vehicle’s first official spaceflight and became the first licensed U.S. commercial astronaut.
8Hubble Space Telescope, Revolution in Space Observation
The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, is the largest and most versatile optical telescope. NASA developed it in collaboration with the European Space Agency, and it revolves through the Earth’s lower orbit. The telescope’s primary objectives are to study the universe’s history and evolution, investigate the composition and characteristics of various celestial bodies, and serve as a long-term space research facility in astronomy.
The Hubble Space Telescope was also the first space telescope designed for astronauts to make repairs. It captures high-resolution images of the sky, enabling deep space study. Additionally, it enabled NASA to monitor space shuttles, spacewalks, and other procedures in space. Due to its multiple servicing missions, the Hubble Space Telescope has a longer lifespan, with the last mission completed in 2009.
7International Space Station, Habitable Artificial Satellite
The International Space Station, launched in 1998, is an artificial, habitable satellite that orbits Earth in lower Earth orbit. It is the largest artificial body in space, supervised by five space agencies: NASA, ESA, CSA, Roscosmos, and JAXA. You can see it with the naked eye at certain times. It orbits the Earth 16 times daily, traveling at a speed equivalent to that of a bullet. The ISS provides a home for astronauts who conduct different experiments within it.
Besides astronauts, there are many scientists from different disciplines and fields investigating microgravity’s effects on the human body, the possibility of future space travel, and a wide range of important research. It handles more than twenty times the spacecraft’s signals and the testing of spacecraft instruments.
6Sputnik I, First Artificial Earth Satellite
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched its first-ever artificial satellite, known as Sputnik I. This successful launch marked the beginning of the space age. The satellite, shaped like a basketball and 23 inches in diameter, provided valuable information about the Earth’s upper atmosphere, including its ion density.
Additionally, Sputnik I helped scientists understand how radio frequencies work in space, which led to improved communication between astronauts and Earth. The satellite transmitted signals to Earth for 22 days using a simple radio transmitter and a distinctive beep sound. Sputnik I remained in orbit until January 4, 1958, when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned out.
5Viking I, First Successful Mars Landing
The NASA Viking mission involved two spacecraft: Viking I and Viking II. Viking I was launched on August 20, 1975, followed by Viking II, which successfully landed on Mars on July 20, 1976. Viking II was the first spacecraft to touch down on the red planet. Over more than 2307 days, Viking II studied Mars and sent back high-resolution photos that revolutionized our understanding of the planet.
Scientists created global surface maps of Mars based on these images, revealing its northern low-elevation plains and southern cratered highlands in unprecedented detail. The orbiters also captured stunning close-up views of the planet’s volcanoes, dust storms, and canyons. Moreover, Viking II deeply studied vapor in the Martian atmosphere and tested samples from the planet’s surface to get deeper insights into Mars’ atmospheric and surface conditions.
4Voyager I, Farthest Man Made Object From Earth
In 1977, NASA launched Voyager I on a mission to study the solar system and interstellar space. It has since become the first man-made object to enter interstellar space and is still operational even after 45 years, sending valuable information back to Earth. As of August 2022, the probe is approximately 14.6 billion miles away from our planet, making it the farthest spacecraft from Earth.
NASA equipped the spacecraft with two Golden Records containing music and spoken greetings, and gold-plated copper disks with pictorial representations depicting its working, believing that extraterrestrials may come in contact with it. Scientists have confirmed that the Voyager I traveled through plasma for over a year after entering interstellar space and detected pressure variations between the solar system’s edge and interstellar space.
3Apollo 8, First Spacecraft that circles the Moon
Apollo 8 was the first spacecraft launched by NASA to enter the Moon’s orbit. This was the initial instance when a space agency sent humans beyond low Earth orbit. The manned spacecraft launched on December 21, 1968, with Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders as its crew. During its flight, astronaut Bill Anders took the first color image of Earth from space, famously known as the “Earthrise” image.
Apollo 8 demonstrated translunar injection and procedures necessary for future lunar missions. It orbited the Moon 10 times and landed safely in the Pacific Ocean on December 27, 1968. Thus, Apollo 8’s crew were the first humans to witness the entirety of the Earth, a moment that will forever be indelible in human history.
2Yuri Gagarin, First Man on Space
On 12 April 1961, Major Yuri Gagarin made history by venturing into space, becoming the first human to do so. The Soviet Union’s space agency-operated Vostok I spacecraft took him to space and where he spent for one hour and 48 minutes. At the time of the launch, there was no way of knowing how weightless a pilot could feel or how the onboard controls would work.
However, Gagarin was suggested to take manual control in case of an emergency. During his descent, he experienced forces up to eight times the pull of gravity. Since the spacecraft had no engines to slow its re-entry, Gagarin forcefully ejected himself from the spacecraft with a parachute to Earth. Upon his return, the Soviet government recognized him as a cultural hero of the country.
1Man on Moon
On July 20, 1969, NASA launched the Apollo 11, the fifth crewed Apollo mission. Michael Collins piloted the spacecraft used for the mission. On the morning of July 20, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their way to the lunar surface by entering the lunar module through a tunnel. At exactly 4:17 PM U.S. Eastern Daylight Time, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the lunar surface at the Sea of Tranquility.
Armstrong became the first person ever to set foot on the Moon, and Aldrin followed him shortly after. Upon stepping onto the lunar soil, Armstrong excitedly said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” They collected samples and planted an American flag before returning to the spacecraft. Finally, on July 24, 1969, they safely landed on Earth.