The Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, into space in October 1957, initiating the scientific rivalry between the USSR and the United States at the height of the Cold War. In the subsequent decades, the Soviet and American space programs traded milestones as they each embarked upon manned space flight and the exploration of space. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961, and in 1969 the US closed out the decade with astronauts walking on the surface of the moon, a culmination of John F. Kennedy’s famous 1961 proclamation: “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 earth.”
From early Earth orbits and the moon landings to space stations and commercial spacecraft, we’ve collected the key programs that fueled the Space Race and continue to make scientific discoveries to this day.
Featured image credit: Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, May 2009. Scott Andrews, NASA. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.