A Space and Astronomy Timeline
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The Second Millennium (1001 - 2000AD)
20th Century (1901 - 2000)
The Second Half of the 20th Century -- 1951-2000
Continued from the years 1901-1951
1951: Bernard Lovell founds the Jodrell Bank Experimental Station in England and directs the Jodrell Bank Observatory there until 1981.
1951: Color television is introduced in U.S.
1951: American physicists Edward Mills Purcell and Harold Ewan discover electromagnetic radiation from interstellar hydrogen at a radio wavelength of 21 cm. Purcell and Felix Bloch independently develop the analytical technique of magnetic resonance spectroscopy for which both receive the 1952 Nobel Prize for physics.
1954: Last observations at Greenwich Royal Observatory.
1957: British-born American astronomer Eleanor Margaret Burbidge, Geoffrey Burbidge, American nuclear physicist William Alfred Fowler and English astronomer, cosmologist and astrophysicist Fred Hoyle show how stars create heavy elements. Margaret Burbidge, known for her work on the composition of the interior of stars, will direct the Greenwich Royal Observatory 1972-1973. Fowler will share a 1983 Nobel Prize for research on the evolution of stars. Hoyle proposes that eleven elements, including the heaviest, are produced from hydrogen.
1957: The Space Age dawns.
1957: The U.S.S.R. (Soviet Union) launches Sputnik 1 and 2, Earth's first artificial satellites.
1958: The U.S. Army's Jupiter-C rocket fires Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite, to orbit.
1958: Explorer 1 discovers Van Allen radiation belts -- two zones of high-intensity particulate radiation trapped in Earth's magnetic field and surrounding our planet, beginning at an altitude of about 500 miles and extending tens of thousands of miles into space, named for American physicist James Alfred Van Allen .
1958: The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is created.
1958: George Abell publishes his comprehensive catalog of galaxy clusters.
1959: The U.S.S.R. accomplishes numerous spaceflight firsts.
1959: The U.S.S.R. probe Luna 1 is the first human-made object to leave Earth's gravity.
1959: The U.S.S.R. probe Lunik 2 is the first human-made object to reach another world when it crashes into the rim of the crater Autolycus on the Moon.
1959: The U.S.S.R. probe Lunik 3 is the first spacecraft to go behind the Moon and snap photos of that previously-unknown region of the Moon.
1959: The integrated circuit is introduced. An integrated circuit (IC) is a tiny slice or chip of material on which is etched or imprinted a complex of electronic components and their interconnections.
1960: A laser is constructed by Theodore Maimon.
1960: Echo, the first communication satellite, is launched by the U.S.
1960: The U.S. launches TIROS-1, the first weather satellite in orbit.
1960: The USSR launches Cosmos-4, its first weather satellite and photo-reconnaissance spysat.
1962: NASA launches Telstar-1. Continents previously have been linked only by copper cables. TV film footage has been sent across oceans by airplane. Long-distance telephone calls have been special occasions. Telstar is the first active real-time communications satellite.
1962: The U.S. probe Mariner 2 completes the first successful flyby of another planet, Venus.
1963: Maarten Schmidt discovers quasars are extremely energetic objects at a great distance away across the Universe.
1965: Previously predicted cosmic background radiation, a fading echo of the original "Big Bang" that may have originated the Universe, is discovered by German-born American physicist Arno Allan Penzias and American physicist and radio astronomer Robert Woodrow Wilson using a radio antenna at Holmdel, New Jersey. Penzias and Wilson share a 1978 Nobel Prize for work on cosmic microwave radiation.
1965: The U.S.S.R. spacecraft Venera 3 is the first to reach another planet when it crashes into Venus.
1965: The U.S. probe Mariner 4 completes the first successful flyby of Mars.
1966: The Leonid meteor shower, displaying 100,000 hits per hour, is the greatest of the 20th century.
1967: The first pulsar discovery is made by British astronomers Jocelyn Bell-Burnell and Antony Hewish. They, with Martin Ryle, will share a 1974 Nobel Prize in physics -- the first astronomers to win a Nobel Prize. Pulsars are deep space radio sources emitting short intense bursts of radio waves, x-rays or visible light at regular intervals, believed to be rotating neutron stars.
1967: The first detection of a gamma-ray burst is made. Gamma-ray astronomy detects gamma-rays arriving at Earth from deep space.
1960s: U.S.S.R. Vostok and Voskhod and U.S. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spaceflights take place.
1961-63: Vostok, meaning East in Russian, was the USSR's first man-in-space program.
1964: The USSR second man-in-space program was called Voskhod, meaning Sunrise in Russian. It featured three-man capsules. USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev, wanting to upstage America's two-man Gemini flights scheduled for 1965, had Soviet engineers remove life-support and safety equipment and bolt three seats into what otherwise would have been a two-man Vostok capsule.
1967-present: Soyuz is Russia's third man-in-space program, after the Vostok and Voskhod. Soyuz are two-seat and three-seat capsules which transport men and women to low Earth orbits. During the race to the Moon in the 1960s, the Russian Soyuz capsules carry cosmonauts to Earth orbit and on to the Moon. Over the decades, scores of cosmonauts will be launched in the small Soyuz capsules in dozens of flights to Russia's Salyut and Mir space stations. Working at their stations will give the Russians the lead in man-hours in orbit. The cosmonauts return to Earth in the capsules which parachute to land. Supplies are sent to the stations in unmanned Progress cargo-freighter capsules which then are jettisoned to burn in the atmosphere. Progress capsules are stripped down and converted Soyuz capsules.
1961: U.S. President John F. Kennedy sets a goal of landing a man on the Moon within the 1960s.
Three technology levels had to be developed -- the single-seat Mercury capsule, the twin-seat Gemini capsule, and the triple-seat Apollo capsule. Project Mercury and Gemini would orbit at low altitudes around Earth. Apollo would fly to Earth orbit, travel away from Earth to the Moon, orbit the Moon, set down astronauts in a lander, blast them from the Moon back up to lunar orbit, and return to Earth.
1964-66: Project Gemini was America's second man-in-space program and a bridge between Mercury and Apollo.
1968-72: U.S. astronauts rode the first manned interplanetary transportation system, Apollo, to the Moon.
1961: The U.S.S.R. sends the first human being to orbit around Earth -- Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. The cosmonaut will be killed seven years later in 1968 while flying a routine aircraft training mission. A cosmonaut is a Soviet or Russian astronaut. The word is from the Russian kosmonaut , from the Greek kosmos meaning universe and the Greek nautes meaning sailor.
1961: U.S. Navy Cmdr. Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. becomes the first American astronaut in space on a 15-minute non-orbital rocket flight over the Atlantic Ocean. He will command the Apollo 14 flight to the moon in 1971. The word is from the Greek astron meaning star and nautes meaning sailor.
1961: Virgil "Gus" Grissom is the second American astronaut in space on a non-orbital rocket flight over the Atlantic.
1961: Gherman Stepanovich Titov is launched in the Soviet spaceship Vostok II.
1962: John Herschel Glenn Jr. is the first American to orbit Earth, aboard the Mercury capsule Friendship 7. He will be elected U.S. senator from Ohio in 1974, 1980 and 1986.
1963: The first woman to fly in space and the first woman to orbit Earth is Valentina Tereshkova, in her capsule Vostok-6.
1965: U.S.S.R. cosmonaut Alexei Leonov takes the first spacewalk.
1967: Apollo astronauts Virgil I. Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger B. Chaffee die in an Apollo capsule on the launch pad. The capsule caught on fire during a simulated launch.
1968: On its way to the Moon, U.S. Apollo 8 becomes the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth's gravity.
1969: U.S. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins travel to the Moon where Armstrong and Aldrin land to take man's first walk on the lunar surface.
1960s: Rocket planes presage space shuttles.
1959-68: X-15 is tested. The 50-ft. rocket aircraft will be launched 199 times from under the wing of a converted B-52. It flies at speeds up to Mach 6.7, reaching an altitude of 67 miles in 1963. Its fastest speed is 4,534 mph in 1967. Among its pilots are Neil Armstrong who will become the first man on the Moon and Joe Engle who will fly a space shuttle.
1960-63: X-20 is flown as a design for a small military suborbital and orbital shuttlecraft, to be called Dynasoar, to be launched by Titan rocket. It is expensive, never flown, and canceled in 1963.
1963-65: Asset is the name for half a dozen launches of small Dynasoar models testing aerodynamics and thermal protection.
1966-67: M2 is a lifting body testing shuttle handling at trans-sonic speeds. It flies in 1966, crashes in 1967, and is rebuilt for more tests.
1966-67: Prime is the name for three launches of maneuverable lifting bodies to near-orbital speeds.
1960s: HL-10 is a manned lifting body testing shuttle handling at trans-sonic speeds.
1970s: X-24a is a manned lifting body testing shuttle handling at trans-sonic speeds. X-24b will fly manned lifting body tests of handling at trans-sonic speeds 36 times in 1973-1975 with some landings simulating shuttle landings on concrete runways at Edwards Air Force Base.
1969: The Advanced Research Projects Agency's (ARPA) network, precursor to the Internet, goes online.
1969: The U.S. Air Force "Blue Book" reports there are no UFOs.
1970: The U.S.S.R.'s spacecraft Venera 7 transmits 23 minutes of data from the surface of the planet Venus.
1971: The U.S. spacecraft Pioneer 10 is launched, eventually to become the first human-made object to leave our Solar System.
1971: The U.S.S.R. spacecraft Mars 3 makes a soft landing on Mars.
1971: The U.S. spacecraft Mariner 9 goes into orbit around Mars, revealing the Red Planet to be a world of dry riverbeds, deep canyons and volcanos.
1970s: Space habitats take up station in Earth orbit.
1971: While the U.S. won the race to the Moon in 1969, the Soviet Union won the competition for first space station with the launch of its Salyut-1.
1973-76: The USSR space program advanced with the launch of space stations Salyut-2 in 1973, Salyut-3 in 1974, Salyut-4 in 1974 and Salyut-5 in 1976.
1973: America launches its one and only space station -- Skylab -- weighing 77.5 tons and 118 feet long, one of the largest satellites ever sent to Earth orbit. Aboard the manned orbiting laboratory, astronuats conduct scientific research and keep an eye on USSR military installations. For nine months it serves as living quarters for three crews of astronauts.
1979: The falling Skylab space station blazes through the atmosphere, sprinkling debris into the Indian Ocean and onto the Australian Out Back. Some 26 tons survive reentry heat. Thousands of pieces, weighing up to two tons, hit water and land along a 3,600-mi.-long and 100-mi.-wide path. No one is hurt, no damage is done.
1984: President Reagan announces plans to build space station Freedom in Earth orbit within 10 years.
1986: Mir is a Russian word for peace and Russia's name for a third-generation space station launched 23 days after the fatal explosion of U.S. shuttle Challenger. The first component of the station was big as a house trailer in orbit -- 42,000 lbs., 43 feet long. Add-on modules will more than quadrupled Mir. Cosmonauts from numerous countries will conduct research there.
1995: The Russian space station Mir greets its first American guests. A U.S. shuttle docks with the Russian space station.
1999: The last permanent crew leaves the 13-year-old Russian space station Mir.
1971-present: Ten stations have been placed in Earth orbit by Russia and the U.S. The list below shows year, country, name and year it descended to burn in the atmosphere. The tenth station is the International Space Station for which construction began in 1998 and will continue beyond 2003.
Space Station Launches Year Country Station Down 1971 USSR Salyut 1 1971 1973 USSR Salyut 2 1973 1973 USA Skylab 1979 1974 USSR Salyut 3 1975 1974 USSR Salyut 4 1977 1976 USSR Salyut 5 1977 1977 USSR Salyut 6 1982 1982 USSR Salyut 7 1991 1986 USSR Mir -- 1998 International Space Station --
1973: The U.S. spacecraft Pioneer 10 flies past the planet Jupiter.
1974: The U.S. spacecraft Mariner 10 flies past Mercury.
1974: British theoretical physicist Stephen William Hawking says black holes can radiate energy slowly. A black hole is a celestial body whose surface gravity is so strong that no light can escape from within it.
1974: A binary pulsar discovered by American physicists and radio astronomers Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. and Russell Alan Hulse shows existence of gravitational waves. Pulsars are small dense stars that emit regular pulses of electromagnetic radiation. During a systematic search, they discover the first binary pulsar, verifying predictions of general relativity, such as a bending of a radio wave path. They will share the 1993 Nobel Prize for physics.
1975: The U.S.'s Apollo 18 and the U.S.S.R.'s Soyuz 19 spacecraft rendezvous and dock in space.
1975: Fred Hoyle publishes Highlights in Astronomy.
1976: The U.S. spacecraft Viking 1 and 2 land on Mars.
1976: Comet West is seen glowing at its brightest.
1977: Voyager 1 and 2 leave Earth to send back images from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune from 1990 on their grand tours of the outer Solar System.
1977: Rings are discovered around the planet Uranus.
1978: Pluto's moon Charon is discovered by James Christy. In Greek mythology, Charon is the boatman who ferries the dead across the river Styx to Hades.
1978: Debris and radioactivity from the USSR's Cosmos-954 satellite rain on 20,000 square miles of Canadian wilderness.
1979: The U.S. spacecraft Voyager 1 and 2 fly past Jupiter.
1979: The U.S. spacecraft Pioneer 11 flies past Saturn.
1979: The first gravitational lens is seen in deep space. Two nearly identical quasar images are observed lying very near each other in the sky.
1980s: Space shuttles take off.
1974: Work starts on a U.S. space shuttle designated OV-101. It is the first orbiter, but it never will orbit, never will shuttle, never will go to space. After 100,000 Star Trek TV fans write in, U.S. President Gerald Ford names the orbiter Enterprise in 1976. NASA doesn't like the name, wanting to call it Constitution.
1977: The 130-ton Enterprise has no engines and only flies glide tests bolted to the back of a Boeing 747 jet. For the first free flight, Haise and Fullerton are at the controls as the 747 drops Enterprise from an altitude of 4.5 miles over California. They glide 5.5 minutes to Edwards Air Force Base. Five test flights are made over two years. Haise and Fullerton pilot one, three and five. Engle and Truly pilot flights two and four. Engle and Truly later fly shuttle Columbia on the second actual shuttle spaceflight. Truly goes on to become NASA Administrator 1989 to 1992.
1981: Orbiter OV-101, Columbia, becomes the first shuttle to fly in space. Challenger, built before Columbia, doesn't fly in space until 1983.
1984: Vehicle number OV-102, Discovery, makes its first spaceflight.
1984: Vehicle number OV-103, Atlantis, flies to space. NASA names its orbiters for historic sea vessels used in research and exploration.
1986: Seven astronauts lost in liftoff explosion of shuttle Challenger are Francis R. "Dick" Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka, Ronald E. McNair, Gregory B. Jarvis, Sharon Christa McAuliffe.
1988: First unmanned flight test of Buran No. 1 is successful. As Americans pursue reusable space shuttles in the 1970s, the USSR has been designing its own shuttle named Buran -- Russian for snowstorm or blizzard.
1997: U.S. space shuttles fly to the Russian space station Mir.
1998: Three decades later, U.S. astronaut John Glenn returns to space aboard a shuttle, then returns safely to Earth.
1999: Eileen Collins is the first female to head a space shuttle mission.
1980: The U.S. spacecraft Voyager 1 flies past Saturn.
1980: American physicist Luis Alvarez and son Walter Alvarez say a large meteorite, asteroid or comet impact caused mass extinction of dinosaurs and other animals 65 million years ago. The controversial theory will become widely accepted and the impact crater identified. Luis received the 1968 Nobel Prize for physics his discovery of atomic particles.
1981: Columbia, the first U.S. space shuttle, flies in orbit.
1981: The U.S. spacecraft Voyager 2 flies past Saturn.
1981: American physicist Alan Harvey Guth, a particle physicist at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, proposes a theory of an inflationary early Universe. The theory, covering the very first moments of existence of the known Universe, will play a major role in shaping modern cosmology.
1981: Fred Hoyle proposes that early life originated in interstellar dust or comets.
1982: A millisecond pulsar is discovered.
1983: The second space shuttle, Challenger, makes a successful maiden voyage, which includes the first U.S. space walk in nine years.
1983: Sally Ride is the first American woman in space, and the third woman in space, aboard shuttle Challenger in 1983 and 1984. Ride will serve on the presidential commission that investigates shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.
1983: The U.S. spacecraft Pioneer 10 leaves the Solar System.
1983: Direct broadcast satellite TV is available from U.S. Satellite Communications Inc.
1983: USSR Cosmos-1402 satellite comes down in two parts. The four-ton main body falls into the Indian Ocean in January and its 110-lb. nuclear reactor electricity generator drops into the South Atlantic.
1986: The U.S. spacecraft Voyager 2 spacecraft flies past Uranus to report secrets of that planet.
1986: Halley's Comet yields information as it returns to the inner Solar System.
1986: Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) replaces Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the standard definition of time.
1987: Supernova 1987A explodes, the brightest supernova seen in Earth's night sky in almost 400 years.
1987: Cosmos-1871 would have been the heaviest satellite ever placed in orbit around Earth's poles, but the ten-ton Russian spysat reaches only an insufficient 90 miles altitude. It falls harmlessly into the South Pacific 1,500 miles east of New Zealand near Antarctica, the first time the USSR announces beforehand one of its satellites is dropping.
1989: Solar Max, America's large Solar Maximum Mission science satellite, falls into the Indian Ocean.
1989: The U.S. spacecraft Voyager 2 speeds by Neptune after making startling discoveries about the planet and its moons.
1990: Fred Hoyle suggests a link between influenza pandemics and sunspot outbreaks.
1990: The Hubble Space Telescope is launched to Earth orbit and starts transmitting intergalactic views to Earth.
1990: The Magellan radar-mapping spacecraft arrives at Venus.
1991: The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory telescope is launched to Earth orbit and starts transmitting gamma-ray images of deep space to Earth.
1991: The World Wide Web comes into existence as part of the global Internet. Within a few years, millions of people become regular users of the World Wide Web.
1990s: Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite orbiting Earth seems to support the Big Bang theory by finding ripples in microwave background radiation across the sky. Astronomers announce the tiny ripples seem to be the seeds from which the largest structures in the Universe formed.
1996: A meteroite from Mars found on Earth indicates the Red Planet once harbored life.
1997: Comet Hale-Bopp is the closest it will be to Earth until year 4397. Heaven's Gate cult members commit mass suicide in California.
1997: Pathfinder, with its rover Sojourner, lands and begins exploration of Mars. It transmits thousands of pictures from the Red Planet.
1997: A U.S. company launches the first commercial spy satellite.
1998: Chinese use of U.S. satellites is reported.
1999: NASA accidentally loses both the Climate Orbiter and the Polar Lander spacecraft as they arrive at Mars.
1999: Earth population reaches six billion human beings.
1999: Prince Andrew re-opens the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
1999: The Chandra X-Ray Observatory telescope is launched to Earth orbit and starts transmitting x-ray images of deep space to Earth.
2000: Deorbiting of Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and huge constellation of 66 Iridium satellites.
2000: For those who erroneously counted 1999 as the last year of the Second Millennium and the year 2000 as the beginning of the Third Millennium, the first launch of their new millennium was an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral January 21 carrying a U.S. Air Force DSCS satellite. Of course, the Third Millennium actually starts January 1, 2001.
What will the future bring?
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