Timeline: Space flight
|A chronology of key even|
4 October 1957 - Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, is launched by the USSR. The launch stuns the world. To many Americans, the launch represents a Soviet capability to launch ballistic missile strikes against targets in the US.
6 December 1957 - America's first attempt to launch a satellite ends in humiliation when the Navy-built rocket explodes on the launch pad. The bid was dubbed "kaputnik" in the press.
31 January 1958 - Explorer 1, a satellite built by Wernher von Braun's competing team at the US Army's Redstone Arsenal, blasts into space. It discovers the Van Allen radiation belts above Earth.
28 May 1959 - the US sends a pair of monkeys, Able and Baker, into space on a Jupiter missile. They are the first living creatures to successfully return from a trip to space. Although Able died in June 1959, Baker survived until 1984.
24 October 1960 - An R-16 rocket explodes on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, as it is being prepared for a test flight. The disaster claims more than 100 lives.
5 May 1961 - Alan Shepard follows Gagarin to become the first American in space. He completes a sub-orbital flight in his spacecraft Freedom 7. "Why don't you light the damned candle, 'cause I'm ready to go," an exasperated Shepard tells mission control as he waits on the launch pad.
25 May 1961 - President John F Kennedy calls for millions of dollars to fund a space programme to get the first man on the Moon by 1970.
20 February 1962 - John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn travelled more than 130,000km (81,000 miles) in his Friendship 7 capsule, circling the globe three times.
16 June 1963 - The Soviet Union launches the first woman into space. Valentina Tereshkova, a former textile worker, circled the Earth 49 times during three days in space. She was reportedly injured during the landing and needed heavy make-up during subsequent public appearances.
The Saturn V remains the most powerful launch vehicle in history
18 March 1965 - Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov carries out the first ever spacewalk from the two-man Voskhod spacecraft. The mission almost ends in disaster when Leonov's suit inflates in space. The cosmonaut has to bleed air from the suit to get back in the airlock.
27 January 1967 - Fire sweeps through the Apollo command module during a test on the launch pad, killing astronauts Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
24 April 1967 - Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies when the parachute on his Soyuz 1 spacecraft fails to deploy properly. The capsule crashes into the ground near Orenburg, Russia. He is the first person to die on a space mission.
20 July 1969 - The Apollo 11 crew makes the first human landing on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spend two hours on the lunar surface setting up observation equipment and collecting rock samples.
31 July 1969 - An unmanned US spacecraft, Mariner 6, makes a close fly-by of Mars. It approaches at a distance of 3,431km (2,132 miles) from the surface.
13 April 1970 - Apollo 13 is crippled by an explosion caused by a fault in the oxygen tank. "Houston, we've had a problem here," mission commander Jim Lovell informs controllers. With guidance from the ground, the three-man crew later overcome the odds and make it back to Earth alive.
19 April 1971 - Russia launches Salyut, the first space station. The first crew to dock with the orbiting outpost later die during re-entry when the air leaks out of their Soyuz capsule.
14 May 1973 - Skylab, a space station converted from the upper stage of a Saturn V rocket, is launched by Nasa.
17 July 1975 - The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project becomes the first international space flight when US astronaut Thomas Stafford greets Alexei Leonov in the hatchway of their docked spacecraft.
20 July 1976 - The first of two Viking probes touches down on the surface of Mars. Controversy still surrounds one of the results from an experiment designed to detect life.
20 August 1977 - America launches its unmanned probe Voyager 2 on a mission of exploration to four planets and their moons.
12 April 1981 - The US space shuttle Columbia lifts off on its maiden voyage. The shuttle is the world's first reusable manned spacecraft.
24 January 1986 - The US Voyager 2 spacecraft becomes the first spacecraft to make a close approach to Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun.
28 January 1986 - Nasa's Challenger space shuttle explodes, killing all seven astronauts on board. The cause of the disaster is traced to a faulty rocket booster seal.
19 February 1986 - The Soviet Union launches its space station Mir into Earth orbit. Mir has six docking stations, allowing other modules to be added on, expanding its size and capability.
13 March 1986 - The European Space Agency's Giotto spacecraft approaches the nucleus of Halley's Comet at a distance of 596km.
29 September 1988 - Nasa's first space shuttle flight since the Challenger disaster lifts off from Florida. Crew members launch a communications satellite - replacing one lost on Challenger.
24 April 1990 - The Hubble Space Telescope is launched from the space shuttle Endeavour. Initially dogged by technical problems, it is now regarded as one of the most important astronomical tools in history.
18 May 1991 - Britain's first astronaut, 27-year-old Helen Sharman from Sheffield, blasts off on a Russian rocket from Baikonur. Her Soyuz capsule docks with Russia's Mir space station the next day.
22 March 1995 - Cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov sets a record for the most consecutive days in space that has yet to be surpassed. Mr Polyakov, who is also a medical doctor, spent 437 days, 17 hours, 58 minutes aboard the Russian space station Mir during one trip.
7 December 1995 - The unmanned Galileo spacecraft arrives at Jupiter where it will carry out an eight-year mission of exploration.
20 November 1998 - Assembly of the ISS begins with the launch of its first module, Zarya, on a Proton rocket from Baikonur.
1 February 2003 - The US space shuttle Columbia disintegrates as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.
25 December 2003 - Scientists fail to pick up an expected signal from British-built spacecraft Beagle 2 telling them it has landed safely on Mars. After several attempts to contact the probe draw a blank, it is declared lost.
4 January 2004 - Nasa's robotic rover Spirit lands successfully on Mars. It is joined on the Red Planet three weeks later by its "twin", the Opportunity rover. Each rover carries a suite of instruments to aid in their search for answers about the history of water on Mars.
1 July 2004 - The Cassini spacecraft enters orbit around Saturn to begin a four-year mission of exploration.
4 October 2004 - SpaceShipOne becomes the first privately built vehicle to reach space, flying to just above 100km - the boundary of our atmosphere.
14 January 2005 - Europe's Huygens probe plunges through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, touching down safely on the surface. It is the farthest from Earth any spacecraft has made a controlled landing.
12 October 2005 - China launches its second manned mission, Shenzhou 6. Its two yuhangyuan spend five days in low-Earth orbit before touching down in their capsule on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
A Chinese astronaut has become the first in his country's history to take a walk in space.
In an operation broadcast live on national TV, fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang emerged from the capsule orbiting the Earth to wave a Chinese flag.
Mr Zhai, 42, stayed outside the capsule for 15 minutes while his two fellow astronauts stayed in the spacecraft.
The exercise is seen as key to China's ambition to build an orbiting station in the next few years.
Mr Zhai began the manoeuvre just after 1630 Beijing Time (0830 GMT) on Saturday, and completed it about 15 minutes later.
"I'm feeling quite well. I greet the Chinese people and the people of the world," he said as he climbed out of the Shenzhou VII capsule.
For China this mission is as much about national pride as anything else
His colleague, Liu Boming, also briefly got his head out of the capsule to hand him the flag.
Mr Zhai wore a Chinese-made spacesuit thought to have cost between £5m and £20m ($10m-$40m) for the space walk.
The "yuhangyuan" (astronaut) was tethered to the capsule with an umbilical cable.
Mr Zhai retrieved an externally mounted experiment.
The third yuhangyuan on the mission is Jing Haipeng.
The Shenzhou VII capsule soared into orbit on a Long March II-F rocket from Jiuquan spaceport in north-west China on 25 September.
1958: Base for spaceflights built at Jiuquan, in Gobi desert
April 1970: China launches its first satellite into space
1990-2002: Shenzhou I-IV are launched to develop systems
Oct 2003: The first manned space mission launches on Shenzhou V
Oct 2005: The Shenzhou VI mission takes two men into space
Oct 2007: Chang'e-1 orbiter sent on unmanned mission to the Moon
The rocket put the Shenzhou capsule in a near-circular orbit more than 300km above the Earth.
Earlier, Zhang Jianqi, one of the chief engineers for China's space programme, said keeping three men in the spacecraft, and then sending one outside, would be a "big test".
"This is a big technological leap," he told state-run news agency Xinhua.
"The risks are quite high. Sending up three astronauts is a jump both in quantity and quality."
The ship is to release a 40kg (90lb) satellite which will circle the orbiter and beam back images to mission control.
At the end of the mission, the Shenzhou re-entry capsule will target a landing in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
China became only the third nation after the United States and Russia to independently put a man in space when Yang Liwei, another fighter pilot, went into orbit on the Shenzhou V mission in October 2003.
Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a five-day flight on Shenzhou VI.
According to the Associated Press news agency, Xinhua posted an article on its website prior to the lift-off that was written as if Shenzhou VII had already been launched into space.
The article reportedly carried a date of 27 September and came complete with a dialogue between the astronauts.
Chinese media report that this latest mission is the "most critical step" in the country's "three-step" space programme.
These stages are: sending a human into orbit, docking spacecraft together to form a small laboratory and, ultimately, building a large space station.
The Shenzhou VIII and IX missions are expected to help set up a space laboratory complex in 2010.
China launched an unmanned Moon probe last year about one month after rival Japan blasted its own lunar orbiter into space.
SHENZHOU VII SPACECRAFT
1. Forward orbital module - crew live and work in this section, which contains scientific equipment. In future missions, this module may remain in orbit as part of a Chinese space station
2. Re-entry capsule - contains seats for three crew
3. Propulsion module - contains spacecraft's power unit and liquid fuel rocket system
4. Solar panels - spacecraft carries one pair of solar panels
5. Spacewalk - One yuhangyuan (astronaut) exits the orbital module on a tether. Another crew member stands just inside to assist in case of an emergency
BEIJING (AP) -- A Chinese astronaut on Saturday performed the nation's first-ever spacewalk, the latest milestone in an ambitious program that is increasingly rivaling the United States and Russia in its rapid expansion.
Mission commander Zhai Zhigang floated out of the orbiter module's hatch in the spacewalk, shown live on state broadcaster CCTV. Tethered to handles attached to the Shenzhou 7 ship's orbital module's exterior, Zhai remained outside for about 13 minutes before climbing back inside and closing the hatch behind him.
''Shenzhou 7 has left the module, physically feel very good. Greetings to all the people of the nation and all the people of the world,'' Zhai said.
Fellow astronaut Liu Boming also emerged briefly from the capsule to hand Zhai a Chinese flag that he waved for an exterior camera filming the event. The third crew member, Jing Haipeng, monitored the ship from inside the re-entry module.
Top Communist Party officials including President Hu Jintao watched the spacewalk from a Beijing command center, breaking into applause with the successful completion of each stage of the maneuver.
The successful spacewalk paves the way for assembling a space station from two Shenzhou orbital modules, the next major goal of China's manned spaceflight program. China is also pursuing lunar exploration and may attempt to land a man on the moon in the next decade -- possibly ahead of NASA's 2020 target date for returning to the moon.
China launched its first manned mission, Shenzhou 5, in 2003, becoming only the third country after Russia and the United States to launch a man into space. That was followed by a two-man mission in 2005.
In step with its growing list of achievements, the military-backed program has grown progressively less secretive and officials have hinted in recent days at a desire for greater cooperation with other nations. China plans to mass produce the next version of the Shenzhou ship to service a future space station and says it may make such missions available to other countries.
Space cooperation between China and other nations has so far been limited and the U.S. has refused Chinese involvement in the international space station for fear it could gain technical secrets applicable to its arms industry.
A Chinese space program official said earlier that Russian technicians would assist in Saturday's spacewalk, but it wasn't clear what role they played.
Since blasting off from their northwestern China launch base on Friday, the astronauts had been largely occupied with preparing the suits and adapting to zero gravity. Meals aboard the craft have followed a typical Chinese menu, featuring versions of kung pao chicken, shrimp and dried fruit, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
On Friday, the three-module capsule shifted from an oval orbit to a more stable circular orbit 213 miles above Earth, meaning it is circling at a constant distance.
The change ensured that Earth's gravitational pull would not vary during the spacewalk attempt and will help Shenzhou make a precise landing on the Inner Mongolian Steppe on Sunday after its re-entry vehicle bursts through Earth's atmosphere, Xinhua said.
Following the spacewalk, the craft is to release an 88-pound satellite which is to circle the orbiter and send back images to mission control.