The History of NASA, in Pictures

A look back at the triumphs and tragedies of manned spaceflight.

Dec. 6, 2014, midnight

A look back at the his­tory of manned space­flight in the United States. 

In September 2015, new findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found strong evidence that liquid water flows intermittently on Mars. This picture was produced by draping an orthorectified false color image on a digital terrain model and shows streaks flowing downhill. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin." The MAHLI camera on Curiosity's robotic arm took multiple images on Aug. 5, 2015, that were stitched together into this selfie. National Journal
This snapshot, dated November 1957, shows Dr. von Braun in downtown Huntsville, Alabama. NASA Identifier: MSFC-9806943 U.S. Civilian
Bumper Wac liftoff at the Long Range Proving Ground located at Cape Canaveral, Florida. At White Sands, New Mexico, the German rocket team experimented with a two-stage rocket called Bumper Wac, which intended to provide data for upper atmospheric research. On February 24, 1950, the Bumper, which employed a V-2 as the first stage with a Wac Corporal upper stage, obtained a peak altitude of more than 240 miles. NASA Identifier: MSFC-0100059 U.S. Civilian
The Sputnik 1 (PS-1) satellite is shown here on a rigging truck in the assembly shop in the fall of 1957 as a technician puts finishing touches on it. When the development of the first advanced scientific satellite, Object D, proved to be more difficult than expected, the Soviets decided to launch a simpler, smaller satellite. PS-1, or Sputnik 1, began development in November 1956. On October 4, 1957, Sputnik 1 successfully launched and entered Earth's orbit. Sputnik shocked the world, giving the USSR the distinction of putting the first human-made object into space and putting the United States a step behind in the space race. *Image Credit*: NASA NASA Identifier: SPD-SLRSY-1626 U.S. Civilian
Test of Vanguard launch vehicle for U.S. International Geophysical Year (IGY) program to place satellite in Earth orbit to determine atmospheric density and conduct geodetic measurements. Malfunction in first stage caused vehicle to lose thrust after two seconds and vehicle was destroyed. *Image Credit*: U.S. Navy December 6, 1957 NASA Identifier: SPD-SLRSY-384 U.S. Civilian
Closeup view of the chimpanzee ''Ham'', the live test subject for Mercury-Redstone 2 test flight being fed an apple. This photo was taken after his successful recovery from the Atlantic. Note he is still strapped into his special flight couch. January 1961 NASA Identifier: S63-18198 U.S. Civilian
Photograph courtesy of the Soviet Academy of Sciences showing Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In S76-22368, he is with Academician S. Korolyov. First man in space in April 1961 NASA Identifier: S76-22368 U.S. Civilian
Overall view of Astronaut John Glenn, Jr., as he enters into the spacecraft Friendship 7 prior to MA-6 launch operations at Launch Complex 14. Astronaut Glenn is entering his spacecraft to begin the first manned Earth orbital mission. Credit: NASAPhoto by Bill Taub First manned orbit in Feb. 1962 NASA Identifier: 431171main_MA6-1_Glenn U.S. Civilian
On June 3, 1965 Edward H. White II became the first American to step outside his spacecraft and let go, effectively setting himself adrift in the zero gravity of space. For 23 minutes White floated and maneuvered himself around the Gemini spacecraft while logging 6500 miles during his orbital stroll. White was attached to the spacecraft by a 25 foot umbilical line and a 23-ft. tether line, both wrapped in gold tape to form one cord. In his right hand White carries a Hand Held Self Maneuvering Unit (HHSMU) which is used to move about the weightless environment of space. The visor of his helmet is gold plated to protect him from the unfiltered rays of the sun. NASA Identifier: GPN-2000-001180 U.S. Civilian
NASA successfully completed its first rendezvous mission with two Gemini spacecraft-Gemini VII and Gemini VI-in December 1965. This photograph, taken by Gemini VII crewmembers Frank Lovell and Frank Borman, shows Gemini VI in orbit 160 miles (257 km) above Earth. The main purpose of Gemini VI, crewed by astronauts Walter Schirra and Thomas Stafford, was the rendezvous with Gemini VII. The main purpose of Gemini VII, on the other hand, was studying the long-term effects of long-duration (up to 14 days) space flight on a two-man crew. The pair also carried out 20 experiments, including medical tests. Although the principal objectives of both missions differed, they were both carried out so that NASA could master the technical challenges of getting into and working in space. NASA Identifier: GPN-2000-001488 U.S. Civilian
Closeup view of the interior of Apollo S/C 012 C/M, Pad 34 showing the effects of the intense heat of the flash fire which killed the Prime Crew of the A/S 204 Mission. Astronauts Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee lost their lives in the accidental fire. Jan. 1967 CAPE KENNEDY, FL NASA Identifier: S67-21294 U.S. Civilian
Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Mission Commander, works at the Lunar Module LM. The U.S. Flag and Solar-Wind Composition SWC Experiment are visible. Shadow in foreground. Image taken at Tranquility Base during the Apollo 11 Mission. Original film magazine was labeled S. Film Type: Ektachrome EF SO168 color film on a 2.7-mil Estar polyester base taken with a 60mm lens. Sun angle is Medium. Tilt direction is Northeast NE. NASA Identifier: AS11-40-5886 U.S. Civilian
This incredible image of the Earth rise was taken during lunar orbit by the Apollo 11 mission crew in July of 1969. The first manned lunar mission, Apollo 11 launched aboard a Saturn V launch vehicle from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on July 16, 1969 and safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969. The 3-man crew aboard the flight consisted of Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, Command Module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module pilot. Carrying astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., the Lunar Module (LM) ?Eagle? was the first crewed vehicle to land on the Moon. Astronaut Collins piloted the Command Module in a parking orbit around the Moon. The LM landed on the moon?s surface in the region known as Mare Tranquilitatis (the Sea of Tranquility). The crew collected 47 pounds of lunar surface material which was returned to Earth for analysis. The surface exploration was concluded in 2_ hours. With the success of Apollo 11, the national objective to land men on the Moon and return them safely to Earth had been accomplished. The Saturn V launch vehicle was developed by the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) under the direction of Dr. Wernher von Braun. NASA Identifier: MSFC-9303655 U.S. Civilian
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible in the soil of the Moon. Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander, took this picture with a 70mm Hasselblad lunar surface camera. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the LM, the "Eagle", to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the Moon, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) "Columbia" in lunar-orbit. NASA Identifier: GPN-2001-000012 U.S. Civilian
A perilous space flight comes to a smooth ending with the safe splashdown of the Apollo 13 Command Module (CM) in the south Pacific Ocean, only four miles from the prime recovery ship, the U.S.S. Iwo Jima. The Command Module "Odyssey" with Commander, James A. Lovell Jr., Command Module pilot, John L. Swigert Jr. and Lunar Module pilot Fred W. Haise Jr. splashed down at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970. The crew men were transported by helicopter from the immediate recovery area to the U.S.S. Iwo Jima. NASA Identifier: GPN-2000-001312 U.S. Civilian
The crewmembers of the Apollo 13 mission, step aboard the USS Iwo Jima, prime recovery ship for the mission, following splashdown and recovery operations in the South Pacific Ocean. Exiting the helicopter which made the pick-up some four miles from the Iwo Jima are (from left) astronauts Fred W. Haise Jr., lunar module pilot; James A. Lovell Jr., commander; and John L. Swigert Jr., command module pilot. The crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft splashed down at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970. National Journal
David R. Scott, Apollo 15 Commander, is seated in the Rover, Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) during the first lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA-1) at the Hadley-Apennine landing site. NASA Identifier: GPN-2000-001306 U.S. Civilian
Nearly 30 years ago this week, a new era in space flight began, when on April 12, 1981 the first shuttle mission was launched. STS-1 commander John Young had already flown in space four times, including a walk on the moon in 1972. Bob Crippen, the pilot, was a Navy test pilot who would go on to command three future shuttle missions. Image Credit: NASA NASA Identifier: 327705main_8111969_full U.S. Civilian
Astronaut Sally K. Ride, mission specialist on STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the Flight Deck. Floating in front of her is a flight procedures notebook. NASA Identifier: GPN-2000-001083 U.S. Civilian
Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, is seen further away from the confines and safety of his ship than any previous astronaut has ever been. This space first was made possible by the Manned Manuevering Unit or MMU, a nitrogen jet propelled backpack. After a series of test maneuvers inside and above Challenger's payload bay, McCandless went "free-flying" to a distance of 320 feet away from the Orbiter. This stunning orbital panorama view shows McCandless out there amongst the black and blue of Earth and space. NASA Identifier: GPN-2000-001087 U.S. Civilian
Astronaut F. Story Musgrave, anchored on the end of the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) arm, prepares to be elevated to the top of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to install protective covers on the magnetometers. Astronaut Jeffrey A. Hoffman inside payload bay, assisted Musgrave with final servicing tasks on the telescope, wrapping up five days of space walks. NASA Identifier: GPN-2000-001085 U.S. Civilian
This image of the International Space Station (ISS) was photographed by one of the crewmembers of the STS-105 mission from the Shuttle Orbiter Discovery after deparating from the ISS. The STS-105 mission was the 11th ISS assembly flight and its goals were the rotation of the ISS Expedition Two crew with the Expedition Three crew, and the delivery of supplies utilizing the Italian-built Multipurpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Leonardo. Aboard Leonardo were six resupply stowage racks, four resupply stowage supply platforms, and two new scientific experiment racks, EXPRESS (Expedite the Processing of Experiments to the Space Station) Racks 4 and 5, which added science capabilities to the ISS. Another payload was the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE), which included materials and other types of space exposure experiments mounted on the exterior of the ISS. NASA Identifier: MSFC-0201586 U.S. Civilian
A television frame grab shows the breakup of the space shuttle Columbia minutes before a scheduled landing February 1, 2003 as it crossed the United States with seven astronauts on board. Getty Images
Space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) touches down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), completing its 13-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program, early Thursday morning, July 21, 2011, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Overall, Atlantis spent 307 days in space and traveled nearly 126 million miles during its 33 flights. Atlantis, the fourth orbiter built, launched on its first mission on Oct. 3, 1985. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft takes off from its launchpad on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. Getty Images
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 05: The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft takes off from its launchpad on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. Getty Images

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