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The signals of Sputnik 1 continued for 22 days.
The Space Shuttle lifts off on a manned mission to space.

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.

Current period

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.


Date First ... Mission Person Country
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

Earlier spaceflights

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.[1]


  1. ^ Schefter, James (1999). The Race: The Uncensored Story of How America Beat Russia to the Moon. New York, New York: Doubleday. pp. 3–49. ISBN 0-385-49253-7.  

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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space age


space age (uncountable)

  1. The period from the about the time of the launch of Sputnik in 1957 to the present day, during which man ventured into space


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