The Space Age is a contemporary period encompassing the activities related to the Space Race, space exploration, space technology, and the cultural developments influenced by these events. The Space Age is generally considered to have begun with Sputnik (1957).
The Space Age began with the development of several technologies that culminated on October 4, 1957, with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union. This was the world's first artificial satellite, orbiting the Earth in 98.1 minutes and weighing in at 83 kg. The launch of Sputnik 1 ushered a new era of political, scientific and technological achievements that became known as the Space Age.
The Space Age was characterized by rapid development of new technology in a close race mostly between the USA and the Soviet Union. Rapid advances were made in rocketry, materials science, computers and other areas. Much of the technology originally developed for space applications has been spun off and found other uses.
The Space Age reached its peak with the Apollo program which captured the imagination of much of the world's population. The landing of Apollo 11 was an event watched by over 500 million people around the world and is widely recognized as one of the defining moments of the 20th century. Since then and with the end of the space race due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, public attention has largely moved to other areas.
During the 1990s funding for space related programs fell sharply as the Soviet Union disintegrated and NASA no longer had any direct competition. Also, public perception of the dangers and cost of space exploration in the USA was greatly affected by the Challenger disaster in 1986.
Since then participation in space launches have increasingly widened to more governments and commercial interests. Since the 1990s, the current period has more often been referred to as the Information Age rather than the Space Age, since space exploration and space-related technologies are no longer felt to be commonplace by significant portions of the public.
In the early 21st century, the Ansari X Prize competition was set up to help jump start private spaceflight, which was won by Space Ship One in 2004, becoming the first spaceship not funded by a government agency.
Several countries now have space programs; from related technology ventures to full fledge space programs with launch facilities. There are many scientific and commercial satellites in use today, with a total of hundreds of satellites in orbit, and several countries have plans to send humans into space.
|October 4, 1957||artificial satellite||Sputnik 1||-||Soviet Union|
|October 7, 1959||pictures of the far side of the moon||Luna 3||-||Soviet Union|
|April 12, 1961||man in space||Vostok 1||Yuri Gagarin||Soviet Union|
|March 18, 1965||spacewalk||Voskhod 2||Alexey Leonov||Soviet Union|
|April 3, 1966||artificial satellite of another celestial body||Luna 10||-||Soviet Union|
|December 21-27, 1968||humans to leave the Earth's influence, orbiting the Moon||Apollo 8||-||USA|
|July 20, 1969||first human to walk on the Moon||Apollo 11||Neil Armstrong||USA|
|April 19, 1971||space station||Salyut 1||-||Soviet Union|
|July 20, 1976||Mars landing||Viking 1||-||USA|
|April 12, 1981||reusable space ship||Space Shuttle||-||USA|
|February 19, 1986||long duration space station||Mir||-||Soviet Union|
|November 2, 2000||resident crew||Expedition 1 (International Space Station)||-||international|
The Space Age might also be considered to have begun much earlier than October 4, 1957, because on October 3, 1942, a German A4 rocket, a prototype version of the V-2 rocket program, reached space. It thus became the first man-made object to enter space, albeit only briefly. Since this flight was undertaken in secrecy, it wasn't public knowledge for many years afterwards. Further, the German launch, as well as the subsequent sounding rocket tests performed in both the USA and USSR during the late 1940s and early 1950s, were not considered significant enough to start a new age because they did not reach orbit. Having a rocket powerful enough to reach orbit meant that a nation had the ability to place a payload anywhere on the planet, or to use another term, possessed an inter-continental ballistic missile. The fact that after such a development nowhere on the planet was safe from a nuclear warhead is why the orbit standard is used to define when the space age started.