People in Space: Firsts

by Mark Hughes

In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to venture beyond Earth's atmosphere. Since his journey, about 450 people—astronauts, civilians, and "space tourists"—have explored space. Follow this slideshow to learn about notable firsts for space exploration.

Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin
The first human in space was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961. He orbited Earth once aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft.
Photo source: NASA
Alan Shepard
Alan Shepard
The first American in space was Alan Shepard, Jr., aboard the craft Mercury 3, on 5 May 1961. Shepard, however, was not able to make a complete orbit of Earth.
Photo source: NASA
John Glenn
John Glenn
The first American to achieve a complete orbit of Earth was John Glenn aboard the Friendship 7 capsule on 20 February 1962. Glenn orbited Earth three times on the Friendship 7. In this picture, John Glenn is seated in between John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Photo source: NASA
Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova
On 16 June 1963 Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian astronaut, became the first woman to venture into space. Tereshkova is the woman standing on the right side of this picture.
Photo source: NASA
Alexei Leonov
Alexei Leonov
The first person to walk in space was Alexei Leonov of Russia on 18 March 1965. Leonov spent over ten minutes outside his spacecraft, the Voskhod 1.
Photo source: NASA
Ed White
Ed White
On 3 June 1965, during the Gemini 4 mission, Ed White became the first American to take a spacewalk. White's spacewalk lasted over 20 minutes.
Photo source: NASA
Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong
The first person to set foot on the Moon was American Neil Armstrong on 20 July 1969. Upon exiting his spacecraft, the lunar module, Armstrong said the now famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Photo source: NASA
Sally Ride
Dr. Sally Ride
On 18 June 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to venture into space aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride turned 32 a month before going to space, making her also the youngest American ever to do so.
Photo source: NASA
Guion Bluford
Guion Bluford
Guion Bluford was the first African American to travel into space. His adventure took off on 30 August 1983 aboard the space shuttle Endeavor. In this picture, Bluford is keeping in shape using the shuttle's treadmill.
Photo source: NASA
Mae Jemison
Dr. Mae Jemison
The first African American woman in space was Mae Jemison. She lifted off in the space shuttle Endeavor on 12 September 1992.
Photo source: NASA
Eileen Collins
Eileen Collins
In 1995, Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, the Discovery. That was NASA's first mission to the Russian space station Mir. In 1999, Collins took the helm of the Columbia, becoming the first female space shuttle commander. Collins retired from the air force in 2005, having spent over 872 hours in space—that's more than 36 days.
Photo source: NASA
John Glenn
Senator John Glenn
In 1998, 36 years after being the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn went back into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery. At 77 years of age, Glenn was the oldest person to venture into space.
Photo source: NASA
Dennis Tito
Dennis Tito
In 2001, California billionaire businessman Dennis Tito became the first tourist, or paying passenger, to go into space. His ticket cost $20 million. Tito went up about the Russian Soyuz supply mission to the International Space Station. He spent eight days onboard the ISS before returning to Earth. Dennis Tito is the person floating in this picture.
Photo source: fas.org
Yang Liwei
Yang Liwei
China became the third nation to send a human into space on 15 October 2003. Astronaut Yang Liwei spent over 21 hours in space, orbitting Earth 14 times before returning.
Photo source: spacedaily.com
Peggy Whitson
Dr. Peggy Whitson
In 2008, the first woman to command the International Space Station was Dr. Peggy Whitson who also holds the American record for cumulative days in space—over 376 days.
Photo source: NASA
Zhai Zhigang
Zhai Zhigang
On 28 September 2008, China celebrated its first ever spacewalk. Mission commander Zhai Zhigang spent about 13 minutes outside the orbital module. This accomplishment supports China's continuing ambitions to establish a permanent presense in space.
Photo source: spacefacts.de
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