Space Shuttle Endeavour

History of the American Manned Space Exploration

Here you can get information about the past American Manned Space missions.


Mercury Mission Logo



Mercury was the first manned space flight project lasting from 1959 till 1963 with the goal to put a human in orbit and study the effects of zero gravity on the human body. It was successfully accomplished in a 4 2/3 year period of dynamic activity which saw more than 2,000,000 people from many major government agencies and much of the aerospace industry combine their skills, initiative, and experience into a national effort. In this period, six manned space flights were accomplished as part of a 25-flight program. On 5 May 1961 Alan Shepherd became the first American in space. These manned space flights were accomplished with complete pilot safety and without change to the basic Mercury concepts. It was shown that man can function ably as a pilot-engineer-experimenter without undesirable reactions or deteriorations of normal body functions for periods up to 34 hours of weightless flight.


Gemini Mission Logo

The second U.S. manned space program was announced in January 1962 to extend the existing manned space flight program by development of a two-man spacecraft.. It was conceived after it became evident to NASA officials that an intermediate step was required between Project Mercury and the Apollo Program. Its two-man crew gave it its name, Gemini, for the third constellation of the Zodiac and its twin stars, Castor and Pollux. Gemini involved 12 flights, including two unmanned flight tests of the equipment. The goals of the program were:

  1. - To subject man and equipment to space flight up to two weeks in duration.
  2. - To rendezvous and dock with orbiting vehicles and to maneuver the docked combination by using the target vehicle's propulsion system
  3. - To perfect methods of entering the atmosphere and landing at a preselected point on land. Its goals were also met, with the exception of a land landing, which was cancelled in 1964.



Apollo Mission Logo

The Apollo program was started after President John F. Kennedy proposed the national goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" by the end of the 1960s in a May 25, 1961 address to Congress. This goal was achieved on July 20, 1969 when the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon surface. All in all there were 17 Apollo missions till the program was ended in December 1972. Project Apollo's goals went beyond landing Americans on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth. They included:

  1. - Establishing the technology to meet other national interests in space.
  2. - Achieving preeminence in space for the United States.
  3. - Carrying out a program of scientific exploration of the Moon.
  4. - Developing man's capability to work in the lunar environment.

Rocket and Spacecraft

The flight mode, lunar orbit rendezvous, was selected in 1962. The boosters for the program were the Saturn IB for Earth orbit flights and the Saturn V for lunar flights. Apollo was a three-part spacecraft: the command module (CM), the crew's quarters and flight control section; the service module (SM) for the propulsion and spacecraft support systems (when together, the two modules are called CSM); and the lunar module (LM), to take two of the crew to the lunar surface, support them on the Moon, and return them to the CSM in lunar orbit.



Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

Apollo-Soyuz Mission Logo

Apollo Soyuz was the first international manned spaceflight lasting from July 15-24 1975. It was designed to test the compatibility of rendezvous and docking systems for American and Soviet spacecraft, to open the way for international space rescue as well as future joint manned flights.


For this mission the existing American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft were used. The Apollo spacecraft was nearly identical to the one that orbited the Moon and later carried astronauts to Skylab. The Soyuz craft was the primary Soviet spacecraft used for manned flight since its introduction in 1967. A docking module was designed and constructed by NASA to serve as an airlock and transfer corridor between the two craft.



Skylab Mission Logo


Skylab in Orbit



America's first experimental space station, Skylab, was designed for long durations. Skylab program objectives were twofold: To prove that humans could live and work in space for extended periods, and to expand our knowledge of solar astronomy well beyond Earth-based observations. The program was successful in all respects despite early mechanical difficulties.

Skylab was launched into Earth orbit by a Saturn V rocket on May 14, 1973. Through the use of a "dry" third stage of the Saturn V rocket, the station was completely outfitted as a workshop area before launch. Crews visited Skylab and returned to Earth in Apollo spacecraft.

Three, three-man crews occupied the Skylab workshop for a total of 171 days and 13 hours. It was the site of nearly 300 scientific and technical experiments, including medical experiments on humans' adaptability to zero gravity, solar experiments and detailed Earth resources experiments.

The empty Skylab spacecraft returned to Earth on July 11, 1979, scattering debris over the Indian Ocean and the sparsely settled region of Western Australia.

Space Shuttle

Skylab Mission Logo


Skylab Mission Logo



NASA's space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981 and continued to set high marks of achievement and endurance through 30 years of missions. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station. The final space shuttle mission, STS-135, ended July 21, 2011 when Atlantis rolled to a stop at its home port, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


As humanity's first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle pushed the bounds of discovery ever farther, requiring not only advanced technologies but the tremendous effort of a vast workforce. Thousands of civil servants and contractors throughout NASA's field centers and across the nation have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to mission success and the greater goal of space exploration.

Shuttle-Mir Program

Shuttle-Mir Mission Logo

The Shuttle–Mir Program was a collaborative space program between Russia and the United States, which involved American Space Shuttles visiting the Russian space station Mir, Russian cosmonauts flying on the shuttle and an American astronaut flying aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to engage in long-duration expeditions aboard Mir.


The project, sometimes called "Phase One", was intended to allow the United States to learn from Russian experience with long-duration spaceflight and to foster a spirit of cooperation between the two nations and their space agencies, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos). The project helped to prepare the way for further cooperative space ventures; specifically, "Phase Two" of the joint project, the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). The program was announced in 1993, the first mission started in 1994 and the project continued until its scheduled completion in 1998. Eleven Space Shuttle missions, a joint Soyuz flight and almost 1000 cumulative days in space for American astronauts occurred over the course of seven long-duration expeditions.


International Space Station

Skylab Mission Logo


Skylab Mission Logo





The International Space Station (ISS) is a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit. It is a modular structure whose first component was launched in 1998. Like many artificial satellites, the station can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. The ISS consists of pressurised modules, external trusses, solar arrays and other components. ISS components have been launched by American Space Shuttles as well as Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets. Till now the United States are the country that has sent most people to th ISS. 173 americans have already stayed in the ISS. It has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations and is maintained at an orbital altitude of between 330 km (205 mi) and 410 km (255 mi).

The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and other fields. The station is suited for the testing of spacecraft systems and equipment required for missions to the Moon and Mars.

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