The first artificial Earth satellite, a landmark achievement by the Soviet Union, whose launch kicked off what would be known as the Space Race.
The first orbital human spaceflight accelerated the Space Race and spurred future innovation in human space exploration.
The first U.S. human spaceflight sent Alan Shepard into the record books as the first American in space.
The first extravehicular activity, or spacewalk, demonstrated that humans can work in the vacuum of space, changing the paradigm of human space exploration and on-orbit work capabilities.
The Moon landing brought with it the first human footprints on a celestial body, proving to the world that human ingenuity and innovation could accomplish feats that were once thought impossible.
With Salyut, the first space station, the Soviet Union demonstrated that humans could also live off the surface of planet Earth.
At the height of the Cold War, engineers and scientists from the United States and the Soviet Union worked together to plan and execute the first joint U.S.-Soviet Space mission—the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project—demonstrating that space exploration is independent of politics.
USSR - USA
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 was intended to study our outer Solar System, including completing flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn's moon, Titan.
The world's first reusable spacecraft, the Space Shuttle, had its maiden launch in 1981, on the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic flight. Capable of transporting both people and payloads to and from low earth orbit, the Space Shuttle was used to conduct science and national security missions and was integral in the assembly of the International Space Station.
The first modular space station, Mir was assembled in orbit between 1986 and 1996 and was operated until 2001. During its lifetime, Mir was the largest artificial satellite in orbit.
Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is one of the largest and most versatile instruments used to study our universe. HST is the only telescope designed to be serviced by astronauts and has been repaired and upgraded five times during the Space Shuttle program.
USA - ESA
With its first component launched in 1998, the International Space Station (ISS) is a joint effort between the United States, Russian, Japanese, European, and Canadian space agencies, along with contributions by several other nations. The ISS has been continuously occupied for fifteen years and stands as a hallmark of international cooperation in space.
Cassini-Huygens—a flagship mission between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency—was launched in 2004 to the planet Saturn. Cassini is the first space probe to enter Saturn's orbit, while Huygens, the lander, is the first spacecraft to ever land in our outer Solar System.
USA - ESA - Italy
Launched in 2010, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa mission was the first to land on and return a sample from an asteroid back to Earth.
The first Chinese space station, Tiangong 1, was launched in 2011 and served as a crewed science laboratory and testbed for rendezvous and docking operations for the Chinese space program. Tiangong 1 is the first operational component of the Tiangong program, which aims to build a modular outpost in low earth orbit by 2023.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) accurately and successfully carried out a landing on the surface of Mars in the Gale Crater in 2012. MSL delivered Curiosity, the largest Mars rover equipped with a vast suite of scientific instruments, to the Martian surface.
As the nation's first interplanetary mission, Mars Orbiter Mission was launched in 2013 and positioned India to become the first nation in the world to reach Mars on its first attempt.
Launched in 2004, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft became the first spacecraft to orbit a comet. Its lander, Philae, became the first to make a soft landing on a comet nucleus.
An interplanetary space probe launched in 2006, NASA’s New Horizons became the first spacecraft to flyby and explore the dwarf planet Pluto. In 2019, the space probe is expected to complete its secondary mission, a flyby of a Kuiper belt object.