c. 130 BC—Hipparchus determines the diameter of and distance to the Moon with very good accuracy.
1609—Galileo observes craters and mountains on the Moon using a small telescope. He publishes his findings in Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger) in 1610.
1651—Giovanni Baptista Riccioli publishes a detailed atlas of the lunar surface, identifies the seas (maria), and begins the tradition of naming craters for astronomers and philosophers.
1687—Isaac Newton publishes Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), containing the three laws of mechanics, the law of universal gravitation, and derivations of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.
1865—Jules Verne publishes From the Earth to the Moon, the first practical description of a manned lunar mission.
1903—Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, inspired by Verne’s novel, publishes Exploring Space with Reactive Devices, laying the foundation for much of modern rocket science. He describes the use of multi-stage rockets.
1906—H.G. Wells publishes The First Men in the Moon.
1920—Robert Goddard publishes A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, describing both solid- and liquid-fueled rockets.
1923—Hermann Oberth, also inspired by Verne’s novel, publishes The Rocket into Interplanetary Space. The book generates public interest in rocketry across Europe.
March 26, 1926—Working in secret, Goddard launches the first liquid-fuel rocket on a farm in Worcester, Massachusetts. It reaches a maximum height of 41 feet.
1927—Hermann Noordung develops the concept of a spinning space station shaped like a ring, with artificial gravity produced by the inertia associated with the spinning motion.
1927—The Verein für Raumschiffahrt (Germany’s Society for Space Travel) is founded by enthusiasts eager to put Oberth’s ideas to the test. Club members, including Wernher von Braun, build small-scale rockets.
1929—Fritz Lang films Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon), with Oberth as technical advisor. With remarkable accuracy, Lang’s movie anticipates many of the modern elements of spaceflight, including the dramatic rollout of a huge vertical rocket, the “ten . . . nine . . . eight . . .” countdown, and the effects of low-gravity in space. The movie has a profound influence on rocket scientists in Germany.
1932 to 1944—von Braun works on rocket development for the German military. His team develops the A-4, later renamed by Hitler the V-2. Von Braun is arrested by the Nazi Gestapo in February 1944 for wasting time and money building rockets designed for space travel instead of for military applications.
1950—von Braun, working now for the Americans, redesigns the V-2 for improved guidance and larger payload.
1952 to 1954—in a series of articles published in Collier’s magazine, von Braun outlines an ambitious plan for space exploration, including permanent space stations, reusable shuttles and rockets, and manned missions to the Moon and Mars. Several books are published outlining von Braun’s plans in greater detail, with breathtaking illustrations that capture the public’s imagination.
March 9, 1955—Working closely with von Braun, Walt Disney televises Man in Space, watched by over 100 million Americans. It is the first of three Disneyland broadcasts visualizing von Braun’s idea of a permanent American presence in space.
1956—von Braun and his team launch Missile 27 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It reaches an altitude of 680 miles, nearly high enough to put an artificial satellite into orbit.
1957—President Eisenhower approves a small U.S. satellite program, Project Vanguard. The plan is for the satellites to measure the size and shape of the Earth. Von Braun is not allowed to work on the project.
October 4, 1957—the Soviet Union launches Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. Its repeating signal can be detected by anyone with a radio tuned to the correct frequency. Three days later, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev informs a New York Times reporter that the Soviet Union possesses “every kind of missile necessary for modern war.”
November 3, 1957—the Soviet Union launches Sputnik II, which carries a dog named Laika into space. U.S. President Eisenhower, accused by frightened Americans of dragging his heals on space exploration, insists there is no “space race.”
November 8, 1957—Eisenhower quietly gives von Braun and his team permission to continue working on rockets for space exploration.
December 6, 1957—at Cape Canaveral, the Vanguard rocket explodes on the launch pad. The disaster is carried on live television.
January 31, 1958—von Braun’s team places the first American artificial satellite, the Explorer, into orbit. Later, a second attempt to put the Vanguard into orbit is successful, followed by a second Explorer satellite. Each of the American satellites is small, about the size of a baseball or volleyball.
May 15, 1958—the Soviet Union places the 3,000 pound Sputnik III into orbit.
October 1, 1958—Eisenhower creates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to keep civilian space exploration separate from military missile programs. NASA initiates Project Mercury; its goal is to put an American in space.
April 9, 1959—the Mercury Seven, seven test pilots who have passed NASA’s rigorous training program for space flight, are introduced to the public. They are Scott Carpenter, Gordan Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.
November 8, 1960—John F. Kennedy is elected the 35th President of the United States.
April 12, 1961—the Soviet Union launches the Vostok, carrying Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. Gagarin spends 108 minutes completing the first manned orbit of the Earth.
May 5, 1961—the first manned Mercury flight carries Alan Shepard to an altitude of 115 miles above the Atlantic Ocean. Shepard spends five minutes at maximum altitude, becoming the first American in space.
May 25, 1961—in a speech to a joint session of Congress, President Kennedy delivers the somber challenge: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
January 10, 1962—NASA approves final designs for an advanced Saturn-series rocket, the Saturn V. Von Braun will oversee development of the Saturn V at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
February 20, 1962—John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth, completing three orbits aboard a Mercury space capsule.
June 16, 1963—the Soviet Union launches the Vostik VI, carrying the first female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, into space.
October 12, 1964—the Soviet Union launches the Voskhod I, carrying three men, the most ever, into space. The crew includes Vladimir Komarov, pilot; Konstantin Feoktistov, scientist; and Boris Yegorov, physician.
March 18, 1965—Soviet cosmonaut Alexi Leonov becomes the first person to spacewalk, spending ten minutes outside the Voskhod 2.
June 3, 1965—Ed White becomes the first American astronaut to spacewalk.
December 4, 1965—the Gemini 7 blasts off, carrying Americans Frank Borman and Jim Lovell into space for a two-week endurance test.
January 27, 1967—the crew of Apollo 1, Roger Chaffee, Gus Grissom, and Ed White, are killed by a fire in the command module. In the wake of the tragedy, the command module and its hatch are completely redesigned.
December 21, 1968—Apollo 8 is launched, carrying Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders. It achieves lunar orbit on December 24.
March 3, 1969—Apollo 9 is launched, carrying James McDivitt, David Scott, and Russell Schweickart. They conduct a full test of the lunar module while in Earth orbit.
May 18, 1969—Apollo 10 is launched, carrying Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan. This is the first Apollo mission carrying all the equipment needed for a lunar landing, including the command and service modules, and the lunar module. In a dry run for Apollo 11, the crew of Apollo 10 carry out all aspects of the Moon mission except for landing on the Moon.
July 16, 1969—Apollo 11 is launched at 9:32:00 AM Eastern Time, carrying Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. The lunar module, the Eagle, lands on the Moon in the Sea of Tranquility at 4:17:40 PM on July 20. Neil Armstrong steps onto the lunar surface at 10:56:15 PM, stating “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin joins him on the lunar surface twenty minutes later. Armstrong and Aldrin spend 21 hours and 36 minutes on the lunar surface (including time spent in the Lunar Module). The crew returns to Earth at 12:50:35 PM on July 24.
November 14, 1969—Apollo 12 is launched, carrying Charles Conrad, Jr., Robert Gordon, and Alan Bean. After landing in the Ocean of Storms, Conrad and Bean recover parts from the Surveyor 3 spacecraft which had landed on the Moon 2 ½ years earlier.
April 11, 1970—Apollo 13 is launched, carrying James Lovell, John Swigert, Jr., and Fred Haise, Jr. On April 14, an explosion and rupture of an oxygen tank causes a nearly catastrophic loss of oxygen, water, and electrical power in the service module. The accident nearly kills the crew, and the planned lunar landing at Fra Mauro crater is aborted. The crew returns safely to Earth on April 17.
July 26, 1971—Apollo 15 is launched, carrying David Scott, Aldred Worden, and James Irwin. Scott and Irwin land at Hadley Rille on July 30. This mission is the first to use the Lunar Roving Vehicle, an electric four-wheeled vehicle designed to operate in the low-gravity vacuum on the lunar surface. The crew returns to Earth on August 7.
April 16, 1972—Apollo 16 is launched, carrying John Young, Thomas Mattingly II, and Charles Duke, Jr. A malfunction in the command module nearly forces the crew to abort the lunar landing, but Young and Duke land in the Descartes highlands region on April 21. The crew returns to Earth on April 27.
December 7, 1972—Apollo 17 is launched, carrying Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt. Cernan and Schmitt land at Taurus-Littrow on December 11. The crew returns to Earth on December 19. Apollo 17 is the last manned mission to the Moon.