Key figures in space exploration

National Space Day is all about celebrating the incredible engineering, technological and scientific milestones throughout the history of space exploration and study. Space Day has been celebrated annually since 2001, encouraging young people and the general public to become interested in the exploration of space, promoting an interest in STEM.

To celebrate, Student Circuit takes a look at the key figures in space exploration. From the first man to walk on the moon, to the incredible work of SpaceX’s Elon Musk, the last 60 years have been monumental in space discovery.

Yuri Gagarin became the first human to successfully fly into space and return to Earth.

Alan Shepard was the first US man to fly to space. He flew the Freedom 7 spacecraft on a 15-minute flight.

Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963. She orbited Earth 48 times in the Vostok 6.

In 1965, Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to walk in space. He was outside his spacecraft for just over 10 minutes.

Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldwin were of course the first humans to set foot on the Moon, or any celestial entity other than Earth. This remains one of America’s proudest moments, and was “one giant leap for mankind”.

Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorthy Vaughan were computers and their work assisted one of the first American astronauts, John Glenn, orbit Earth in 1962. A lot of the women’s work went uncelebrated, and the 2016 release of Hidden Figures, the non-fiction book and the biographical drama highlighted the situation and the achievements.

Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983, 20 years after the first woman was launched to space. Ride entered space aboard the Challenger space shuttle.

In 2000, NASA Astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev were the first crew to live aboard the International Space Station, which has been occupied ever since. As of 2021, 244 individuals have made 403 spaceflights to the ISS.

In 2001, Dennis Tito, a millionaire from California became the first paying passenger to travel into outer space. He took off for an eight day drip, flying on a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station.

Felix Baumgartner set three world records in October 2012 when he jumped from a balloon that floated him to the edge of space. He was the first human to break to break the sound barrier without propulsion or protection.

Elon Musk created SpaceX, a space transport company that has made significant innovations and advancements in transporting people, and objects to space. Elon builds and designs many of the rockets and spacecrafts, using his physics and business knowledge to also run the company. SpaceX has lowered the cost of space exploration and drawn attention to the potential to make money.

To read more about the monumental milestones in space exploration, click here.