Space Exploration Meaning and History Explained

Space exploration is the observation, study and investigation of extraterrestrial features in outer space. This article discusses space exploration meaning, and history, according to the outline below;

-Space Exploration Meaning: 6 Ways to Define Space Exploration

-History of Space Exploration


Space Exploration Meaning: 6 Ways to Define Space Exploration

Space exploration is the act of sending manned and unmanned crafts into outer space for investigation of extraterrestrial features [17].

The above definition highlights two factors; spacecrafts and extraterrestrial investigation. In the light of these factors, we can provide and alternative space exploration meaning, that indicates some important fields that are applicable to the concept;

Space exploration is the application of geology, astronomy, aviation engineering and renewable energy technology, toward the exploitation of resources in outer space.

Artificial intelligence is a very important aspect of space exploration [5]. Its relevance is highlighted in the space exploration meaning that is given below;

Space exploration is an aspect of human endeavor and sustainable development, that is involves the use of artificial intelligence to send automated satellites and probes into the extraterrestrial zones of the solar system.

The term ‘solar system’ is used above to indicate that space exploration projects carried out using automated probes have been largely restricted to our solar system.

Another important factor in the exploration of space is energy. The following space exploration meaning, highlights the role of renewable energy in extraterrestrial programs;

Space exploration is the act of sending rockets propelled and sustained by liquid hydrogen, nuclear energy and hydrogen fuel cell technology, into outer space [12].

An alternative space exploration meaning is given below, based on the features which are studied and explored;

Space exploration is the investigation of asteroids, planets, meteoroids and black holes, among other features of outer space, using specialized technologies.

Aside investigation and inquiry, there are other benefits of space exploration. Some of them are mentioned in the space exploration meaning that is given below;

Space exploration is the act of probing extraterrestrial regions to gain knowledge, expand human habitation, extract minerals, install communication and monitoring systems, and develop advanced technologies.

History of Space Exploration

The history of space exploration can be traced back to the year 1608, when Dutch eyeglass maker Hans Lippershey invented the first telescope [7].

In 1944, the MW 18014; a German rocket was propelled toward space in a test launch. It is considered the first human-designed object to probe the outer space. However, the rocket did not attain orbital velocity.

Sputnik was the first manmade satellite to orbit the Earth [11]. It was launched by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) on October 4, 1957, at a time of rapid space, rocket and missile technological development.

History of Space Exploration: Sputnik 1 (Credit: Музей Космонавтики 2017 .CC0 1.0.)
History of Space Exploration: Sputnik 1 (Credit: Музей Космонавтики 2017 .CC0 1.0.)

On November 3, 1957, Sputnik 2 was launched, also by the U.S.S.R; with a dog named Laika onboard [4].

The United States Government established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958; as an agency in charge of space exploration and advanced military technology.

Explorer was the name given to the first American satellite to be launched successfully into space, on January 31, 1958 [6]. This satellite was used for observation, measurement and study purposes.

The Lunar 2 is considered to have been the first manmade object to successfully land on the Moon, in the year 1959 [8], followed shortly by Lunar 3.

Yuri Gagarin was the first human cosmonaut to to orbit the Earth, for 108 minutes, in 1961 [2]. On June 16, 1963; the Vostok 6 mission was launched, using the Vostok-K 8K72K rocket [15]. It was on this mission that the first female cosmonaut; Valentina Tereshkova, traveled to space.

Projects Gemini and Apollo were launched between the early 1960s and 1972, under the administration of United States President John F. Kennedy [1]. These projects achieved their primary objective in 1969 when the first astronauts were sent to the Moon aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft, making Neil Armstrong the first human to touch the lunar surface [18].

History of Space Exploration: Moon Landing (Credit: Astronaut David R. Scott, Apollo 15 commander 1971)
History of Space Exploration: Moon Landing (Credit: Astronaut David R. Scott, Apollo 15 commander 1971)

Other planetary bodies including Mars, Mercury and Venus were investigated using space probes in the 1960s and 1970s.

On April 19, 1971; the Salyut Space Station was launched by the Soviet Union, being the first space station to enter orbit [9].

A decade later, in 1981; reusable space shuttle technology was utilized, beginning with the launch of Columbia shuttle by NASA [14]. In 1986, a major disaster occurred with the explosion of space shuttle Challenger, which caused the deaths of the seven crew members aboard [3].

The Venera 1 spacecraft was used for the first flyby space exploration project of Venus, in 1961 [16]. This was followed by a series of flyby missions involving Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto and the Sun, from the 1960s to the 2010s. Data in the form of images were collected by several of the spacecrafts used.

Exoplanet observation has been made possible by advanced space telescopes, since the 1990s.

In the year 1998, the first modular component of the International Space Station (ISS) were launched into orbit [10]. The ISS is a research station or laboratory in low orbit, which has been occupied since 2000.

February 1, 2003 saw the deaths of another seven crew members in the Columbia shuttle disaster, after which space shuttle programs were suspended for a period of time [12].

Developments so far in space exploration include the advent of private space projects, reusable rocket systems and interstellar flights.

The table below highlights some important, historical, space exploration facts;

Date of Event Primary Details Secondary Details
July 20, 2021 Successful manned flight to outer space by private company

Spacecraft used: The New Shepard

Crew members: Jeff Bezos,Wally Funk, Mark Bezos, Oliver Daemen

Country/Organisation: U.S, Blue Origin

July 11, 2021 Successful space mission by private company

Spacecraft used: VSS Unity:

Crew members: Richard Branson, Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, Sirisha Bandla

Country/Organisation: Virgin Galactic

April 16, 2021 Contract for the building of launchpad for Artemis lunar program awarded to private company Agency: NASA

Private Organization: SpaceX

Contract Value: $2.9 billion

Country: U.S

January 3, 2019 First lunar landing on far side of the Moon Spacecraft used: Change 4

Country: China

January 1, 2019 Space exploration project reaches farthest cosmological object yet Spacecraft used: New Horizons

Object name: 2014 MU69

Country: U.S

December 21, 2015 First successful return of rocket stage to launch site, denoting advancement in space technology Rocket name: Falcon 9

Country/ Agency: U.S, SpaceX (private company)

July 14, 2015 First Flyby space exploration project of Pluto Spacecraft name: New Horizons

Country: U.S

March 6, 2015 First Orbiting space exploration project of a dwarf planet Spacecraft name: The Dawn Probe

Planet name: Ceres

Country: U.S

November 12, 2014 First landing of spacecraft on a comet Spacecraft name: Philae

Country/Agency: European Space Agency

August 6, 2014 First Orbiting space exploration project of a comet Spacecraft name: Rosetta

Country/Agency: European Space Agency

March 17, 2011 First Orbiting space exploration project of Mercury Spacecraft name: Messenger

Country: U.S

June 13, 2010 First return of asteroid samples to Earth; in Rover space exploration project Spacecraft capsule name: Hayabusa

Country: Japan

May 25, 2008 First successful launch of space rocket capsule into orbit, by private company Rocket capsule name: Falcon 1

Private company name: SpaceX

Country: U.S

January 14, 2005 First landing of a spacecraft on the noon of an extraterrestrial planet Spacecraft name: Cassini-Huygens probe

Planet involved: Saturn

Countries/Agencies: Italy (ASI), European Space Agency, U.S (NASA)

July 1, 2004 First Orbiting space mission of Saturn Mission name: Cassini-Huygens

Overall duration of project: 19 years, 335 days

Spacecraft name: Cassini-Huygens

Countries/Agencies: Italy (ASI), European Space Agency, U.S (NASA)

June 21, 2004 Deployment of first manned spacecraft by private organization, achieving suborbital navigation at about 100km Spacecraft name: SpaceShipOne

Chief operating cosmonaut: Mike Melvill

Organization: Mojave Aerospace Ventures

February 12, 2001 First Orbiting space exploration project of an asteroid Spacecraft used: The NEAR spacecraft

Asteroid name: Eros

Country: U.S

February 14, 2000 Successful launch into orbit, of first asteroid-proximal satellite

First close-up, surface image of asteroid

Spacecraft used: The NEAR spacecraft

Country: U.S

November 2, 2000                first resident crew to occupy the International Space Station First occupation of the International Space Station by resident crew Crew members: Yury Gidzenko, Sergey Krikalvov, and William Shepherd

Countries involved: Russia, U.S

December 7, 1995 First Orbiting space exploration project of Jupiter Spacecraft name: Galileo

Country: U.S

April 25, 1990 Launch of first large optical telescope Telescope name: Hubble Space Telescope

Country/Agency: U.S, and European Space Agency (International Alliance)

August 24, 1989 First Flyby space exploration project of Neptune Spacecraft name: Voyager 2

Country: U.S

March 13, 1986 First Flyby space exploration project to closely capture a comet Spacecraft used: Giotto

Comet name: Halley’s Comet

Country/Agency:             European Space Agency

January 24, 1986 First Flyby space exploration project of Uranus Spacecraft name: Voyager 2

Country: U.S

April 12–14, 1981 Launch, deployment and return of first reusable spacecraft Spacecraft name: Space shuttle Columbia

Country: U.S

September 1, 1979 First Flyby space exploration project of Saturn Spacecraft used: Pioneer 11

Country: U.S

July 20, 1976 Transmission of first images from the surface of planet Mars Spacecraft employed: Viking 1

Country: U.S

July 17, 1975 First exploration project by international allies in outer space Spacecrafts involved: Soyuz, and Apollo (The ‘Apollo-Soyuz’ test project)

Countries: U.S.S.R and U.S

December 3, 1973 First Flyby space mission of Jupiter Spacecraft used: Pioneer 10

Country: U.S

December 2, 1971 First soft-landing of spacecraft on Mars Spacecraft name: Mars 3

Country: U.S.S.R

November 13, 1971 First orbiting exploration project with spacecraft Spacecraft name: Mariner 9

Planetary body orbited: Mars

Country: U.S

April 19, 1971 Launch of first space station Space station name: Salyut 1

Country: U.S.S.R

December 15, 1970 First landing on extraterrestrial planet Spacecraft used: Venera 7

Planet name: Venus

Country: U.S.S.R

September 24, 1970 Return of first samples from the moon Spacecraft used: Luna 16

Country: U.S.S.R

July 20, 1969 Landing of first human on the moon Name of Spacecraft: Apollo 11

Cosmonaut name: Neil Armstrong

Country: U.S

December 24, 1968 Orbiting of the moon by first human cosmonaut crew Spacecraft name: Apollo 8

Crew members’ names: William Anders, Frank Borman, and James Lovell

Country: U.S

April 24, 1967 First record of cosmonaut death on a space exploration project Spacecraft name: Soyuz 1

Cosmonaut name: Vladimir Komarov

Country: U S.S.R

Cause of death: Crash due to failed parachute and drogue deployment

February 3, 1966 Soft-landing of first spacecraft on the moon Spacecraft name: Luna 9

Country: U.S.S.R

July 14, 1965 First pictures of Mars taken from a spacecraft Spacecraft name: Mariner 4

Country: U.S

March 18, 1965 First capsule tethered to space-walk (float freely) in orbit, within the outer space Spacecraft used: Voskhod 2

Cosmonaut name: Aleksey Leonov

Country: U.S.S.R

July 26, 1963 Geostationary-orbital operation of first satellite Satellite name: Syncom

Satellite purpose: Realtime data collection, telecommunication

Country: U.S

June 16, 1963 First female cosmonaut launches into outer space Spacecraft used: Vostok 6

Female cosmonaut name: Valentina Tereshkova

Country: U.S.S.R

December 14, 1962 First return of data from planetary body in the solar system Technology utilized: Robotic space probe

Space probe name: Mariner 2

Country: U.S

April 12, 1961 Orbital navigation of the Earth by first human Spacecraft used: Vostok 1

Human name: Yury Gagarin

Country: U.S.S.R

August 11, 1960 First payload recovery from the orbit of Earth Satellite used: Discover 13

Country: U.S

April 1, 1960 Launch of first applications satellite Satellite name: TIROS

Purpose of launch: Observation and monitoring of weather condition

Country: U.S.

October 7, 1959 First images recorded of the moon Spacecraft used: Luna 3

Country: U.S.S.R

September 14, 1959 landing of first spacecraft on an extraterrestrial planetary body Spacecraft name: Luna 2

Planetary body: Moon

Country: U.S.S.R

November 3, 1957 launch of first living creature from earth into space Satellite name: Sputnik 2

Passenger: Dog named Laika

Country: U.S.S.R

October 4, 1957 launch of first artificial satellite from earth, into outer space Satellite name: Sputnik 1

Country: U.S.S.R


Space exploration is the collection of data from outer space using telescopes and spacecrafts, for purposes of education, resource exploitation and technological advancement.

The history of space exploration dates back to the seventeenth century, with the development of telescopes, and extends to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with the growth of spacecraft and satellite technologies.


1). Arrilucea, E. (2018). “Mission-oriented R&I policies: In-depth case studies Case Study Report Apollo Project (US).” Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

2). Baevsky, R. M. (2015). “12 April 1961: the Birthday of Space Telemedicine.” Cardiometry. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

3). Boin, A. (2008). “Learning from Crisis: NASA and the Challenger Disaster.” Governing after Crisis (pp.232-254). Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

4). Cracknell, A. P.; Varotsos, C. (2007). “Fifty years after the first artificial satellite: From Sputnik 1 to ENVISAT.” International Journal of Remote Sensing 28(10):2071-2072. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

5). Gal, G. A.; Santos, C.; Rapp, L.; Markovich, R.; Torre, L. (2020). “Artificial intelligence in space.” Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

6). Gruntman, M. (2011). “The History of Spaceflight.” Space Mission Engineering: The New SMAD (pp.4-10). Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

7). Helden, A. V. (2009). “The beginnings, from Lipperhey to Huygens and Cassini.” Experimental Astronomy 25(1):3-16. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

8). Huntress, W. T.; Moroz, V. I.; Shevalev, I. L. (2003). “Lunar and Planetary Robotic Exploration Missions in the 20th Century.” Space Science Reviews 107(3):541-649. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

9). Ivanovich, G. S. (2008). “Salyut — The First Space Station: Triumph and Tragedy.” (Accessed 30 August 2022).

10). Johnson, N.; Klinkrad, H. (2009). “The International Space Station and the Space Debris Environment: 10 Years On.” Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

11). Kuznetsov, V. D.; Sinelnikov, V. M.; Alpert, S. (2014). “Sputnik 1 and the First Satellite Ionospheric Experiment.” XXXX COSPAR, August 2-10, 2014. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

12). McDanels, S. J.; Maveaux, B. M.; Russell, R. W.; Collins, T. E.; Jerman, G.; Shah, S. R.; Piascik, R. S. (2006). “An overview of the space shuttle Columbia accident from recovery through reconstruction.” Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention 6(1):82-91. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

13). McLaren, R.; Ragheb, M. (2010). “Nuclear propulsion choices for space exploration.” Nuclear & Renewable Energy Conference (INREC), 2010. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

14). Post, S. L. (2014). “Space Shuttle Case Studies: Challenger and Columbia.” ASEE Annual Conference, Indianapolis, USA. Available at:–23027. (Accessed 30 August 2022).

15). Reschke, M. F.; Krnavek, J. M.; Somers; Ford, G. (2007). “A Brief History of Space Flight with a Comprehensive Compendium of Vestibular and Sensorimotor Research Conducted Across the Various Flight Programs.” Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

16). Rodgers, D.; Gilmore, M.; Sweetsern T. H.; Cameron, J. M.; Chen, G.; Cutts, J. A.; Gershman, R.; Hall, J. L.; Kerzhanovich, V.; McRonald, A.; Nilsen, E.; Petrick, W.; Sauer, C.; Wilcox, B.; Yavrouian, A.; Zimmerman, W. (2000). “Venus sample return. A hot topic.” IEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings 7:473 – 484 vol.7. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

17). Singer, F. (2005). “Manned Space Exploration Can Provide Great Scientific Benefits.” Transactions American Geophysical Union 86(33). Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2022).

18). Velázquez, M. P. (2019).Man on the Moon: A short, critical analysis of Neil Armstrong’s photograph from the Apollo 11 mission.” Available at:’s_photograph_from_the_Apollo_11_mission. (Accessed 30 August 2022). 

Similar Posts