Space Exploration Chronology: 1960 - 1969 | Gagarin | Mariner 2 | Venera 4 | Apollo 11

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Vostok 1: Soviet Union sends first man into space

Mission launched April 12, 1961
Destination reached April 12, 1961
Objectives Launch man into our planet's orbit and return him safely back on Earth.
Results Yuriy Gagarin, a soviet army major, remained in the orbit for 1 hour and 48 minutes. It proved that human beings can survive in space. This success was utilized by the Soviet Union as a political victory and accelerated the space race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., resulting in the American Moon landing at the end of the decade.

Despite a number of malfunctions, Vostok 1 remains to be the brightest legacy of the USSR. Yuriy Gagarin was hailed a hero worldwide. This day will live in history for centuries to come. It also signaled to the entire world that the Soviet Union was ahead of the United States in terms of space exploration, which became a major stimulus for an acceleration of the American space programs.

While Y.Gagarin obtained fame, the main scientist behind this mission and all of early Soviet space program was S.Korolyov from Ukraine. Korolyov's contribution to mankind's space exploration is similar to that of Wernher von Braun.*

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Mariner 2. First successful interplanetary mission. NASA probes Venus.

Credit: NASA/

Mission launched August 27, 1962
Destination reached December 14, 1962
Objectives Reach Venus in a fly-by mode. Determine temperature on the surface. Obtain basic measurements of atmosphere composition. Establish communication with the spacecraft in the vicinity of Venus. Study interplanetary magnetic field and environment of charges particles.
Results Proved that interplanetary space has a continued "solar wind" which, in the future, will be used for space travel. All basic calculations were conducted with success. First evidence of surface being extremely hot, unsuitable for life as we know it, with upper atmospheric temperature being more mild. It was discovered that Venus had either no magnetic field or a very weak one; in the future the latter was proved to be true.

Wealth of data was received from another planet for the first time. The probe flew by Venus, gathering data, only 35,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) away from the planet at the closest approach. Mariner 2 followed a failed Mariner 1 mission. It was hailed as a great achievement, particularly in light of the Space Race with the Soviet Union. At the time United States has been lagging behind the USSR in terms of being first. In some ways, the success of the first interplanetary mission marked the beginning of American superiority in space.*

President Kennedy is presented with a model of Mariner 2
Credit: NASA/

Click here for access to additional information on Mariner 2.

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Soviet Venera 4 takes measurements of Venusian atmosphere

Credit: NASA archives

Mission launched June 12, 1967
Destination reached October 18, 1967
Objectives Become the first manmade spacecraft enter the Venusian atmosphere and study its atmosphere in place (as opposed to being an orbiter). Conduct first successful landing on the planet.
Results The atmosphere of Venus turned out to be denser than expected, which slowed down the descent. Consequently, the batteries died prematurely. No data was gathered from the ground, it is likely that the craft was crushed due to extreme pressure. However, it did take scientific measurements of the atmosphere: chemical composition, pressure and density. Venus has no water, the atmosphere consists mostly of Carbon Dioxide. Magnetic field was discovered to be extremely weak, allowing much of radiation from the Sun to penetrade the surface. Venus is a world of extreme conditions, unsuitable to any kind of life or human exploration in near future.

Venera 4 was the first successful Soviet mission to the planet Venus. It followed a total of 11 Soviet failed missions that were destined for Venus since 1961. Venera 4 scientific station, as it was officially called, marked a beginning of successful Soviet exploration of the closest planet. To date, most of our knowledge about the closest neighbor is derived from Soviet Venera missions that lasted until 1983.

Click here for access to external, additional information on Venera 4.

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Apollo 11. Man walks on the Moon for the first time.

Credit: NASA/
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Mission launched July 16, 1969
Destination reached July 20, 1969
Objectives Landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.
Results Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safely landed on the Moon, while Michael Collins orbited around it, spent 21 hours and 31 minutes on its surface and returned safely back to Earth. Apollo 11 mission remains to be the most iconic space exploration mission, displaying mankind's ingenuity and ability to overcome the seemingly impossible. It is also widely believed to be the mission which solidified American victory in a Space Race with the USSR.

Apollo 11 was one of five missions that included landing astronauts on the Moon. The last landing was in 1972. The Apollo Space Program under NASA had a ceremonial beginning under the President John F. Kennedy in 1961, who had made it a priority and requested that it be accomplished by the end of the decade. The idea of sending human beings to the Moon was born in 1960, however, it was given a strong push after Soviet Cosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin became the first man to enter space. American leadership recognized that it was losing the Space Race in the eyes of the World. Roughly a month after Gagarin's space flight, Kennedy was standing in Congress, requesting necessary funds for a project of a century. The amount of funds, firms and universities committed to the program was unparalleled. Many, including NASA personnel, doubted that it was a realistic goal.

Credit: NASA/
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The dust and rock samples brought back from the Moon, total of 381.7 kg (841.5 lb), allowed for decades of scientific analysis which resulted with a profound understanding of the shared history between Earth and the Moon. We have consequently learned that Moon resulted from a Mars-size object colliding with Earth, shooting chunks of the material out into space. This material formed a ring around Earth, similar to the rings around Gas Giants in the outer Solar System. As those pieces of Earth collided, they formed what is now known as the Moon. This is a widely accepted theory today.

Credit: NASA/
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Total of 12 American astronauts had walked on the Moon. This was the farthest that mankind had ever voyaged out into the space. It is argued that an image of Earth hanging in a vastness of blackness, as viewed from the Moon, had a profound impact on society. It showed how fragile our little world is and, perhaps, is responsible for the beginning of the Environmental movement.

Credit: NASA/

Perhaps more importantly, the program stimulated new technologies, even new industries, to appear. Total economic and technological benefit of the manned Moon landing missions is, arguably, the greatest ever achieved by the human race in a single endeavour. *

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  2. Wikipedia: free, international encyclopedia
  3. NASA: Mariner 2
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