Solar System Exploration: Spacecraft – The Past

There is a huge amount of observation and scientific research that can be carried out from Earth. Either ground or orbital telescopes and equipment are now able to give us an unprecedented view of just just the solar system but the universe as a whole. But in order to find out more like what’s behind the veil of Titan’s atmosphere or to get a close up view of Pluto or land a man on the moon then the only way to do it is with spacecraft.

Spacecraft fall into two distinct categories, manned and unmanned. So far the furthest that a manned spacecraft has been to is the moon, but we seem to be inching towards manned missions that go further into space than ever before. The problem is that manned spacecraft are big, heavy, and need to keep the human(s) travelling alive so they’re expensive. The unmanned craft are much chaper and chaper to launch and run.

Every exploration story has a beginning and space exploration is no different. Starting with the first spaceship and moving towards present day we can see how far space exploration has come.


Sputnik 1 (Satellite 1) was launched on the 4th October 1957 by Soviet Union into low Earth orbit. It transmitted radio signals from it’s four antenna’s for three weeks before its batteries dies. It continued to orbit for another two months before re-entering Earth atmosphere.

Sputnik marked the start of the human race’s push towards space, the planets and the stars. At the time it sparked a panic in the US and started the space race between Russia and the US.

Vostok 1 took the first human into space, again the Soviet Union achieved this. Yuri Gagarin was launched into space and completed an orbit of the Earth on the 12th April 1961. After this these were a number of people that were launched into space. Alan Shepherd became the first American in space aboard his Freedom 7 spacecraft.





These first flights paved the way for manned spaceflight  and soon the sights were set on a more ambitious target – the Moon. Both America and the Soviet union throwing their resources into achieving this target first.

On the 16th July 1969 Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were launched aboard a Saturn V rocket.


Four Days later Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, Buzz Aldrin followed shortly after. Taken to the surface in the Eagle lander craft the two men made history and achieved a goal that man had set itself since almost time began.

moon lander 2

There were a number of Apollo missions to land on the Moon, only one of which wasn’t successful but not one astronaut died in the Apollo landing missions. At outstanding achievement, but not without cost – the crew of Apollo 1 all losing their lives in a catastrophic fire.



After this it was decided that space needed to become more accessible and now the moon had been conquered the next target for manned missions has been Mars and this is been unchanged in the passing decades. But progress didn’t stop and on 12th April 1981 – twenty years after the first manned space flight the space shuttle Columbia carried John Young and Robert Crippen into low Earth orbit. Columbia orbited the Earth 36 times and retuend safely to Earth.

The Space Shuttle was the first and spacecaft built. The idea was that the shuttle would make acess to Earth orbit cheaper and esier, however maintaing the Shuttle was not as cost effective as expected, disposable spacecraft were more cost effective at deploying satellites and cargo.


Called the Buran it bore a striking resemblence to the US Shuttle. The Russians built their own version of the space shuttle.


Little known about, it completed one unmanned Earth orbit in 1988 – it was destroyed in 2002 after the hangar it was kept in collapsed.



On top of this mankind was establishing living space in Earth orbit, the American’s building and launching the Skylab space station in 1973.


After a program of space stations the USSR launcher Mir in 1986.


These missions and what was learned fed into the International Space Station (ISS) which is in use today. While this isn’t every mission that took place from the start, these missions and spacecraft were the trail blazers for what is going on today and whatever will come in the future.


Planet Simon



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8 thoughts on “Solar System Exploration: Spacecraft – The Past

  1. Interesting thought – without the space race between Russia and the US, would man have landed on the moon? Would it have happened at the same time or later or never? So I’m wondering would another space race happen? If it did would that mean a manned mission to Mars? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing? Just random thoughts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These are all great questions, I’m not sure we would have landed on the moon if not for the space race.
      As for the new space race, I think it will be between companies rather than countries. 😀


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