Space History- Sputnik to Apollo and Zond

The 'Space Age' is usually said to have started on October 4, 1957, with the launch of Sputnik, the first satellite, by the Soviet Union. Obviously this was preceded by a long history of planning and development. The origins of space flight could be traced back to ancient stories of flight (Lucian of Samosata; Johannes Kepler) and the invention of rockets in China. And recall the line in the U. S. National Anthem about the rockets' red glare) - rockets were used against U.S. forces by the British army during the War of 1812, and the British learned to use them when they were attacked by rockets in India.

Pioneers of spaceflight

Russian schoolteacher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky developed the basic theories of rocket flight into space, multi-staged rockets etc. about 100 years ago. The Romanian Hermann Oberth, working in Germany, developed technical aspects of rocketry before WW2. At the same time in the United States, Robert Goddard experimented in Massachussetts with liquid-fueled rockets and solved many engineering problems. His experiments became too dangerous for a densely populated area so he moved his research to New Mexico. Meanwhile, rocket and space enthusiasts in several countries extended theory and experimental work in various associations. The most famous were the British Interplanetary Society and, in Germany, the Verein fur Raumschiffahrt (VfR, Society for Space Travel). Space was truly an international endeavour from its earliest years.
British Interplanetary Society
Verein fur Raumschiffahrt

Wernher von Braun

- developed military rockets for Germany during World War 2, launched from Peenemunde against targets in England. As the war ended he and many colleagues surrendered to U.S. forces and were taken to America where they developed modern missiles. von Braun was always primarily interested in space flight and ultimately designed the Saturn rockets which took Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
von Braun

Sergei Korolev

- Russian "Chief Designer" who developed missiles and spacecraft for the Soviet Union, including the first satellites, lunar probes and human space vehicles. Most rockets were launched from Baikonur, in Kazakhstan.
Baikonur Cosmodrome
Korolev website

First satellites

The world's first satellites were made possible by the large missiles developed for intercontinental nuclear warfare. Luckily, they have found other uses. Sputnik ('fellow traveller') was launched on 4 October 1957, demonstrating the rapid progress made since the war by Soviet science and industry. The west was jolted into action, though it already had its own satellite plans. The second satellite, Sputnik 2, carried a dog, Laika, on November 3 1957. The first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, was launched on January 31 1958.
Laika's story
Explorer 1


Early Moon probes

The Moon was an obvious target for early exploration. The US and Soviet Union both launched probes to the Moon from 1958 onwards. The first close flyby was by the Soviet Luna 1 probe in January 1959. Luna 2 (September 1959) struck the Moon, the first human artifact to reach another world. Luna 3 (October 1959) performed the then almost incredible feat of photographing the far side of the Moon. The first successful US lunar probe was Ranger 7 in 1964. It took the first close-up pictures of the Moon before impacting on the surface.
Luna 3
Ranger 7

First robotic landings

After photographing the Moon, an attempt to land instumnents was a logical next step. Korolev's team in the Soviet Union tried many times before succeeding with the first such landing: Luna 9, launched in January 1966. This was followed by Surveyor 1, the first US landing, four months later. These landings revealed the lunar landscape to consist of loose material of all sizes, dust to boulders, broken and redistributed by meteorite impacts over billions of years.
Luna 9
the Surveyors

Orbital mapping

To plan for human landings, and to understand the moon better, it was necessary to obtain global images, including very high resolution pictures of potential landing sites. The US flew five Lunar Orbiter missions in 1966 and 1967 to accomplish this. The Soviet Union flew experimental orbital cameras but never understook a systematic program of global photography.
Lunar Orbiters
Lunar Orbiter photography

Vostok - first person in space

Korolev's second great triumph, after Sputnik, was the successful flight of Yuri Gagarin into orbit around Earth on April 12 1961. His spacecraft was called Vostok ('east'). Several Vostok spacecraft followed, flying for longer periods, flying the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova), and flying two spacecraft at once within view of each other. A modified Vostok called Voskhod carried a crew of three, the first multi-person spacecraft, and a second Voskhod flew Alexei Leonov who undertook the first 'spacewalk', floating freely (but tethered!) outside the spacecraft cabin.

Mercury and Gemini

The US response to Gagarin's flight was to accelerate its own plans and to reach further in an attempt to stem the tide of Soviet 'firsts'. The first US astronaut, Alan Shepard, flew a sub-orbital flight (up and down, not into orbit) on May 5, 1961, in the 'Freedom 7' spacecraft. Six more Mercury flights extended flight time and experience. Then the Gemini spacecraft, carrying a crew of two, increased US experience and confidence in space. Gemini astronauts conducted spacewalks, flew alongside and eventually docked with other orbiting spacecraft.

Apollo - the human landings

The US project to land people on the Moon, Apollo, was a great success, despite some serious problems. Building experience logically, Apollo demonstrated its spacecraft in Earth orbit, then in lunar orbit, and finally in landings. Six of the seven landing flights were successful. The seventh, Apollo 13, succeeded in returning its crew safely to Earth after an explosion on the spacecraft and a long trip around the Moon. The landings revolutionized our understanding of the Moon by returning large collections of lunar materials and leaving scientific instruments on the surface. NOTE: Stories about faked lunar landings are no more based in reality than Sasquatch and Loch Ness Monster videos, and are undertaken solely to generate notoriety and cash.
Apollo missions (click each symbol)
Apollo missions
Apollo memories
The decision to go to the Moon
The decision to go to the Moon (2)
Apollo landing sites
Apollo Lunar Surface Journal - transcripts of the mission communications.

Zond - a challenge to Apollo

The Soviet Union planned human Moon landings but abandoned them after serious problems arose with their large rockets. The orbital and return module flew several times without a crew, including four flights looping around the Moon and back to Earth. These spacecraft were called Zond, and later evolved into the Soyuz spacecraft still used today to take crews and cargo to the Interenational Space Station. Zonds 6, 7 and 8 returned photographs of the far side of the Moon.
Zond missions
Soviet lunar project