Space Exploration Milestones: Important Firsts

The race to sending a human into space was not won by the Americans, but honors went to the Russians, who were the first to explore beyond Earth. Even though the first person into space took place in 1961, the term ‘astronaut’ dates back to 1880 when a British writer named Percy Greg first used it to name a spaceship in his novel titled ‘Across the Zodiac.’ By the 1950s, the word was used to refer to a space voyager. In this article, you will learn about the ‘firsts’ in space exploration.

First Person in Space

On April 12, 1961, the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into space for a flight that lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes. The cosmonaut made a single orbit of Earth aboard a spacecraft called Vostok 1. Because of his success in space, Gagarin became an instant celebrity , known all over the world. He received a multitude of honors and medals for his accomplishment, such as the Hero of the Soviet Union , the highest honor given in the nation. He would later serve as backup crew for the Soyuz 1 mission, which ended in a fatal crash, as well as became deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre. Sadly, Gagarin died in 1968 at the age of 34 when a MiG 15 training jet crashed that he was piloting.

First American into Space

On May 5, 1961, the first astronaut from the United States became Alan B Shepard Jr., who entered space on the Mercury 3 spacecraft. His mission lasted 15 minutes and 222 seconds, where he did not orbit. In his lifetime, Shepard was a naval aviator, test pilot, flag officer, and astronaut for NASA. He also commanded the Apollo 14 mission and became the fifth person to walk on the Moon. He retired from the Navy and NASA in 1974 and died in 1998 at the age of 74.

First 24-Hour Flight in Space

The USSR was successful in completing a flight in space that lasted more than 24 hours. On August 6, 1961, the Vostok 2 made its flight with Gherman S. Titov. The cosmonaut was the youngest ever astronaut at the age of 25 years, 10 months and 25 days old. Titov’s flight proved that humans were capable of living and working in space. He orbited the Earth multiple times (17 in total) during his flight. He was the first person to sleep in orbit and the first to be able to describe what it feels like to suffer from ‘space sickness.’ He was the first to personally pilot a spaceship, and he took the first manual photographs from orbit.

After being an astronaut, Titov continued to work for the Soviet space program. As part of the Spiral project, he was trained to become the first pilot of an orbital spaceplane. However, the death of the first person in space (Yuri Gagarin) in 1968 , the Soviet government did not want to lose another cosmonaut so they ended the test pilot trials of Titov.

Titov is still to this day, the youngest person sent into space.