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Q. Who can launch people to space? — Lora B.
A. So far, three nations and one private company:
Russia, the United States and China, plus the California company Scaled Composites.

Here's how each started:
  • Yuri Gagarin of the USSR rode to orbit in the capsule Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961. He was first in space and first in orbit, completing one revolution around Earth in 1 hour 48 minutes.

  • Alan Shepard became the first American in space just 23 days later, traveling a suborbital path for 15 minutes in the Mercury capsule Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961.

  • Gus Grissom, the second American in space, although still not in orbit, was launched on a 15 minute suborbital flight in the Mercury capsule Liberty Bell 7 on July 21, 1961.

  • Gherman Titov of the USSR was the second man in orbit, completing 16 revolutions around the globe in 25 hours 18 minutes in the capsule Vostok 2 on August 6, 1961.

  • John Glenn became the first American in orbit when he carried the U.S. flag for three trips around Earth in five hours in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962.

  • Scott Carpenter was the second American in orbit. He flew three orbits in five hours in the Mercury capsule Aurora 7 on May 24, 1962.

  • Forty years later, after the flights of hundreds of men and women from many nations around the world, the Peoples Republic of China launched astronaut Yang Liwei in his Shenzhou 5 capsule to Earth orbit on October 15, 2003. That made China the third nation able to send a human being to space.

  • Eight months later, Scaled Composites sent Mike Melvill to space on a suborbital flight from California in SpaceShipOne on June 21, 2004.

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