A Chronology of Key Spaceflight Anniversaries for 2011

2011 is a year containing many important anniversaries in space history. I have compiled a basic list of key anniversaries, some of which are already past. Many of the most important, however, are coming soon, especially the upcoming fiftieth anniversaries of human spaceflight that take place in April and May. Are there any that I should add?

85th Anniversary


16 March—In the “Kitty Hawk” of rocketry, Robert H. Goddard launched the world’s first ­liquid-­fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts; the rocket traveled 184 feet in 2.5 seconds.


75th Anniversary


September—Theodore von Kármán, director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) at Pasadena, founded a group that began experiments in design fundamentals of ­high-­altitude sounding rockets; this group later became the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


65th Anniversary


15 March—The first ­U.S.-­assembled ­V-­2 rocket was ­static-­fired at White Sands Proving Ground.

16 April—The first flight test of the ­U.S.-­assembled ­V-­2 rocket was conducted by the Army at White Sands Proving Ground.

24 October—V-2 rocket No. 13 launched from White Sands carried a camera that took motion pictures of Earth at an altitude of approximately 65 miles (pictures covered 40,000 square miles).


70th Anniversary


16 January—The U.S. Air Force established Proj­ect ­MX-­1593 (Proj­ect Atlas), a study phase for an intercontinental missile.


50th Anniversary


12 April—Soviet cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin became the first human in space with a ­one-­orbit mission aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1.

5 May—Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. manned the first U.S. human space flight, Freedom 7; it was launched from Cape Canaveral by a Redstone (MR-3) launch vehicle to an altitude of 115 nautical miles and a range of 302 miles.

25 May—President John F. Kennedy announced the commitment to land an American on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

21 July—The second piloted flight of a Mercury spacecraft took place when astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom undertook a suborbital mission.

6 August—The Soviet ­Union launched Vostok 2 with cosmonaut Gherman Titov aboard. Titov completed 17 orbits, the first ­day-­long human space flight mission.

23 August—NASA launched Ranger 1 with the mission of photographing and mapping part of the Moon’s surface, but it failed to achieve its planned orbit.

19 September—NASA administrator James E. Webb announced that the site of the NASA center dedicated to human space flight would be Houston, Texas; at first named the Manned Spacecraft Center, in 1973 it was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

25 October—NASA announced the establishment of the Mississippi Test Facility, a test site for the large Saturn boosters developed for Proj­ect Apollo. Located on a bayou in the deep South, it was renamed the John C. Stennis Space Center in 1988.


45th Anniversary


3 February—The Soviet ­Union’s Luna 9 ­soft-­landed on the Moon in the Ocean of Storms and returned the first photos to Earth from the lunar surface.

1 March—Venera 3, built by the Soviet ­Union, ­crash-­landed on Venus; it was the first ­human-­made object to land on another planet.

16 March—During the flight of Gemini VIII, American astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and David Scott docked their spacecraft to an Agena target vehicle, successfully accomplishing the first coupling of two spacecraft.

3 April—The Soviet ­Union achieved lunar orbit with its Luna 10 space probe, the first such vehicle to do so.

2 June—Surveyor 1 landed on the Moon and transmitted more than 10,000 ­high-­quality photographs of the surface. This was the first U.S. spacecraft to ­soft-­land on the Moon.

3-6 July—During the flight of Gemini IX, American astronauts Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan made a ­two-­hour EVA.

18-21 July—During the flight of Gemini X, American astronauts Mike Collins and John Young made two rendezvous and docking maneuvers with Agena target vehicles; ­they also completed a complex EVA.

10 August 1966-1 August 1967—The Lunar Orbiter proj­ect was conducted for a full year as a means of mapping the surface of the Moon in preparation for the Apollo landings.

11-15 November—The last Gemini flight, Gemini XII, was launched with astronauts Jim Lovell and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., who undertook three EVAs and a docking with an Agena target vehicle.


40th Anniversary


19 April—The Soviet ­Union launched the world’s first space station, Salyut 1, and a crew deployed to it on 23 April 1971.

26 ­July-­7 August—The first of the longer, ­expedition-­style lunar landing missions, Apollo 15, was the first to include the lunar rover to extend the range of the astronauts on the Moon, allowing them to bring back 173 pounds of Moon rocks.


35th Anniversary


22 June—The Soviet ­Union launched Salyut 5, a military space station.

20 July—The Viking 1 planetary lander touched down on the Chryse Planitia (Golden Plains) of Mars after a voyage of nearly one year.


30th Anniversary


12-14 April—Astronauts John W. Young and Robert L. Crippin flew the space shuttle Co­lum­bia on the first flight of the Space Transportation System (STS-1).


25th Anniversary


28 January—In a tragic space disaster, the Challenger (STS-51L) exploded and its crew of seven was killed 73 seconds after launch. The seven crew members ­were Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and Sharon Christa McAuliffe.

20 February—The Soviet ­Union launched its Mir space station, which would later be incorporated into the international space station effort.

May—The National Commission on Space, chaired by Thomas O. Paine, issued its report on the U.S. civil space program: Pioneering the Space Frontier: An Exciting Vision of Our Next Fifty Years in Space. The report advocated an aggressive space effort oriented toward the exploration and eventual colonization of the Moon and the other planets of the solar system.

12 May—James C. Fletcher became the NASA administrator for a second time, with the goal of reforming NASA after the January 1986 Challenger accident.

6 June—The Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident identified problems with the ­O-­rings on the solid rocket boosters as the cause of the fatal explosion.

8 July—NASA created the Office of Safety, Reliability, Maintainability, and Quality Assurance in response to findings from the teams investigating the Challenger accident.

15 August—President Ronald Reagan announced that NASA would no longer launch commercial satellites, except those that ­were ­shuttle-­unique or had national security or foreign policy implications.

15 August—NASA secured presidential and congressional support for the acquisition of a replacement orbiter for Challenger, enabling the agency to continue its efforts to build an international space station.


15th Anniversary


22-31 March—In this Atlantis shuttle mission to dock with the Russian space station Mir, the United States left astronaut Shannon Lucid, the first U.S. woman to fly on the station, aboard for a total of five months.

16-26 September—The Atlantis docked with Mir and retrieved Shannon Lucid and left John Blaha for continued joint operations aboard the Russian station.


10th Anniversary


7-20 February—The Shuttle Atlantis, STS-98, installed the U.S. Destiny Laboratory Module, relocated a docking port, delivered supplies

This entry was posted in Apollo, Cold War Competition, History, International Space Station, Lunar Exploration, Politics, Space, Space Shuttle and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Chronology of Key Spaceflight Anniversaries for 2011

  1. John Pfannerstill says:

    One minor correction – Ranger 1 was not a mission to the moon. Both it and Ranger 2 were engineering test flights of the new (at the time) three-axis stabilized interplanetary spacecraft bus. It was to conduct “sky science” from a highly elliptical earth orbit which was not achieved. Ranger 2 did not achieve its desired orbit either.


  2. Gary Kitmacher says:

    small correction: 1951 is the 60th anniversary. (You have 70th)
    I would also have included:
    1996, April 23, the fifteenth anniversary of the launch of Priroda which was the last module of Mir, and which had been extensively modified to be used as a US laboratory
    2001, March 23, 10th anniversary, the reentry and destruction of Mir, which was the first semi-permanent human habitat in space.


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