A history of human space travel: Here's what we've achieved since the first trip into space

Sarah Spickernell
Follow Sarah
Humans went to the moon eight years after space travel began (Source: Getty)

Yesterday marked exactly 54 years since the very first human mission into space.

On 12 April 1961, the Russian Soviet pilot and cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin boarded the Vostok 1 and shouted “Poyekhali!” - “let's go!” - as he headed for the stars. He didn't actually go that far – he spent 108 minutes orbiting Earth at an altitude of 302km (to put it into perspective, the moon is more than 300,000km away from the Earth).

Since then, astronauts have achieved some pretty incredible things beyond our atmosphere, and the stakes are always being raised. Here's a brief history what humans have managed to do in space post-1961.

1962: John Glenn became the first American to man a flight in space, aboard Nasa spacecraft Friendship 7. It took a long time to get going – the flight was postponed 10 times. But once he made it up there, he completed three full orbits at 17,400 miles per hour.
1963: Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. The Russian Cosmonaut was selected from more than 400 applicants to fly the Vostok 6.
1968: Humans were televised in space for the first time during the 11-day manned Apollo 7 mission aboard a Saturn 1.
1969: Neil Armstrong took “one small step” when he became the first person to walk on the moon, and was followed closely by Buzz Aldrin. The first words said by the Apollo 11 crew when they arrived were “the Eagle has landed”.
1971: The moon car, also known as the “Lunar Rover”, was used for the first time. The vehicle was powered by electricity and could drive at speeds up to 8mph. After its initial use, it was driven by American astronauts from the fourth, fifth and sixth Apollo missions to study the surface of the Earth's satellite.
1991: Helen Sharman became the first British astronaut in space. After 18 months of intensive training, Sharman was was part of a Russian mission to the MIR space station. While there, she spent days carrying out scientific experiments. Before becoming an astronaut, she worked for the sweet company behind Mars bars.
2000: The International Space Station (ISS) received its first permanent crew - and crews have been living there ever since. The ISS is a huge space station that was set up in 1986 to aid research and space exploration.
2001: American entrepreneur Dennis Tito paid around $20m to go into space aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, making him the world's first paying space tourist. To be a passenger he had to train for 900 hours: once in space he spent a week orbiting the Earth and visiting the ISS.
2004: The first privately funded manned space flight was made by SpaceShipOne. The new airline Virgin Galactic has been built as a new version of this plane. Paid-for tickets will soon allow customers to fly into space as tourists.
Researchers are now really gearing up to human travel to Mars – our next-door planet in the solar system. The conditions on Mars mean it's the most habitable planet beyond our own, and Mars One (along with various other, rival missions) is in the process of selecting a handful of humans to set up a human settlement within our lifetime. Although the chances of that actually happening are pretty slim...

Related articles