Sojus U spacecraft on ground
Sojus U spacecraft on ground

A short history of manned spaceflight development

First satellite Sputnik in 1957, first man in space 1961 Yuri Gagarin, first man on the Moon 1969 Neil Armstrong, Space Shuttle (STS) and the International Space Station ISS since 2000 , there has been already passed over 50 years of development all over the world to realize the current status of manned space flight.

But how it became possible for the mankind  that the 2000 years old dream of moon landing

came true and who has been the first human beings who have started with their first inventions, observations and calculations to make possible what is today for us normal by reaching for example the ISS with the current Sojus TMA-12M spaceship in 6 hours.


We have to go back some hundred of years ago when a young polish astronom named Nicolaus Copernicus ( born 1473 in Torun, Poland) manifested the current heliocentric world picture instead of the geocentric world picture (Tycho Brahe).

Copernicus has given the base for Johannes Kepler ( born in 1571 in Weil der Stadt, Germany ) to recognize that the planets orbits are elliptic and he has calculated for the first time exactly this planets orbits in our solar system ( rules of Kepler).

Another scientist who has contributed his important part to the story of astrophysics and manned space flight was Galileo Galilei born 1564 in Pisa, Italy.

He invented the telescope and observed that Jupiter has 4 moons and that Venus has phases as well so that Venus must go around the sun and not around the earth.

With this developments the mankind could understand the univers much better than before and could dream in reaching the stars. (pls see the chapter Astronomers)


Thoughts of human beings to travel to the stars  have been already  shown very early  in phantasies of people, but the scientific basic rules for spaceflights have been founded by the  very wellkown and famous english scientist Isaac Newton in his 1686 published rules of actio and reactio. He proposed this principels to use it for flights in vacuum.

Another very famous german scientist who has combined his investigations and explorations of the world and the univers with own journeys was Alexander von Humboldt who could named as the first european cosmonaut due to his several scientific journeys over 70 years where he explored the world under the view of integrated science and networking.

His main publication was his book Kosmos where he opened the mind of this topics for the human beings and discribed the world in a scientific network. (pls see the chapter Astronomers)


But before the development of the unmanned and manned spaceflights have been started, the first possibilty to get near to the space was to use gasballoons which could reach the stratosphere layer in the range of 20 km altitude in the early 30s of the last century.

One man who had this  dream of getting better knowledge of the univers was the scientist and pioneer Auguste Piccard (born, 1884 in Basel, Switzerland), Professor at the ETH in Zürich for physics and a good friend of Albert Einstein and he has given some proofs for Einsteins  theory of relativity  during his stratospheric ballon flights.

But already in the beginning of that experiments there have been occured some tragic accidents where the complete crews died (for example russian crew with the balloon Ossoawiachim I). (pls see the chapter Stratosphere balloon flights)



Another man who had this dream  was Jules Vernes, a french writer, born 1828 in Nantes, when he has written his two romans "From the Earth to the Moon " ( Von der Erde zum Mond ) and " Journey around the Moon" (Reise um den  Mond). (pls see the chapter Jules Vernes)

Another man was the italien writer Max Valier ( born 1895 in Bozen, Italy) who has written " In daring journey to Mars" ( Auf kühner Fahrt zum Mars ) who died very early by a rocketcar experiment in 1930.


The first pioneer was the german Hermann Ganswindt (1856-1934), who proposed a vehicel called `Weltenfahrzeug´ , that was in principle already a rocket, in 1891 and the first Orbitalstation, but nobody has taken care of his ideas.


Another  visoneer and pioneer in development of the basics for spaceships and spaceflights  was the romanien scientist Hermann Oberth ( born 1894 in Hermannstadt, Romania) who has been very much influenced by this romans when he was young and started with his own experiments and studied physics very early in his life.

Oberth published 1923 his book " Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen" which was submitted 1922 at University in Heidelberg as his thesis to get PhD, but it has not been accepted by the authorities.

At more or less the same time another visoneer and pioneer in that field was Konstantin Ziolkowsky ( born 1857 Ischewskoje, Russia) who published 1903 his work " Erforschung des Weltraums mittels Reaktionsapparaten" and he has shown that only rockets with liquid fuel are able to reach the space.

A third pioneer was Robert Goddard ( born 1882 in Worcester, USA) who published 1920 a manuscript where he discribed the possibility to fly with a rocket to the Moon. He started his first liquid rocket trial on 16 of March 1926.

Last but not least we should as well mention Franz von Hoefft (born 1882 in Wien, theoretical and practical rocket engines trials), Robert Esnault-Pelterie (born 1881 in, rocket fuels trials) , Guido von Pirquet (born zu Schloss Hirschstetten - today Wien, theoretical calculations for roket flights in to space), Nicolai Aleksejewitsch Rynin (born 1877 Moscow, rocket trials and acceleration trials with animals) and Johannes Winkler (born 1897 in Carlsruhe -today Poland, rocket engines and solid and liquid fuels) and others who as well contributed with their work to the spaceflight development  and speeded up this aerea.


In the early 30s  years of the last century two different groups of pioneers and engineers  have started the new development of rockets  to bring forward the manned space flight.

One group has investigated the use of  rockets and constructed  this new vehicels for delivery of mails to regions which are difficult to reach. This experiments with postalic background has been carried out in different countries allover the world as there are for example Austria, Germany, India, France, USA , Australia, Cuba  etc., so called rocket mail trials. (pls see the chapter first rocket flights 1931 to 1970).


The first rocket mail trial of this group was undertaken by Friedrich Schmiedl with his Versuchsrakete R1 in Austria on 9 of september 1931 where have been flown 333 covers in the rocket.

Reinhold Tilling in Germany has been successful carried out his first rocket mail trial with 188 flown carts on 15 of april 1931, Stephen Smith in India had his first firing of his first rocket "ship to shore " on 30 of september 1934 with 143 flown covers.


The other group of scientists (Oberth, von Braun, Nebel, Riedel) started their development work of constructing rockets based on the work of Oberth, Ziolkowski and Goddard in Germany Berlin, Kummersdorf with the clear goal to design a rocket which should reach the space.

The rocket A2 reached already 1934 a high of 2000 m and has been launched from the island Borkum .

1937 the group moved to Peenemünde at the baltic sea and launched there the first A4/V2 rocket successfully on 3 of october 1942.

Until the end of the second world war there has been built around 6000 A4/V2 rockets  under the Nazi regime in Peenemünde and Mittelwerk Dora.

After the second world war the hardware and the software have been taken partly to the US and to Russia who have there continued  the work of the group of Peenemünde and developed the A4/V2 further.


In the USA the team under the leadership of Werner von Braun ( born 1912 in Wirnitz, Germany), they have been  developed the rockets Jupiter C which brought Alan Shephard on 5 of may 1961 with Mercury 3 on a ballistic flight and in the Sowjetunion  under the leadership of Segej Koroljow ( born 1906 in Schytomyr, Russia)  the rocket SL6 Wostok has been developed which brought on 12 of april 1961 Yuri Gagarin with Wostok 1 as the first man in the space.

Before the competition of the manned spaceflights between USA and Russia began , the group of Sergej Koroljow in Russia won already the race for unmanned spcecrafts on 4 of october 1957 and brought the first satellite Sputnik 1 in the space.

4 months later, on 31 of january 1958, the USA has been succeded and has been launched their first satellit Explorer 1 in the space as well. 

Both developments from the russians (Sputnik, Wostok)  and the americanes (Explorer and Mercury) part have been based on the former results from the group of Peenemündein the 40s years of the last century.

At that time by end of the 50s and beginning of the 60s of the last century Russia has been in front by the race to develop spaceflights and reaching the Moon.

So, it took around 30 years from the first rocket trials to bring human beings successful in the space.


The german A4/V2 rockets from the group of Peenemünde was the base for the further rockets developments in the USA and Russia and as well in China of the Shenzhou rockets from today.

The next years with the development of the Woshod and the Sojus program (Russia) and the Gemini and the Apollo program (USA) the race to reach first the Moon has been started .

The US president J.F.Kennedy said that they would bring by end of the decade of the 60s a man safe to the Moon and back to the Earth.


But with the death of Sergej Koroljow 1966 the US Apolloprogram stepped very fast forward against the Russian Moonprogram so that US landed first on 20 of July 1969 with Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin ( Apollo 11) on the Moon. The different Apollo missions have taken some covers and letter to the moon, what was later called Moonletters (Mondbriefe). (pls see the chapter Apollo flights)


Due to that fact the russians concentrated more on the near achievements by building up with their Sojusprogram the different orbitalstations in the orbit as there are the different Saljut (1-7) stations and  the MIR station and which have been in function between 1971 (Saljut 1) and 2001 (MIR) , that mans over 30 years.

To built them up, the russians have been used their very well running different Sojus spaceships, Sojus 10 was the first which reached Saljut 1 (1971), Sojus T-15 was the last which reached Saljut 7 (1986)  and first which docked to MIR (!986) and Sojus TM-30 was the last manned one which docked to MIR (2000). (pls see the chapter Sojus flights)


The first orbital station was quasi realized during the Sojus 4 and Sojus 5 missions when the two manned spaceships  met in the space very close  for the first time in history on 15 of january 1969 and  when the two russian cosmonauts Jellissejew and Chronow moved over from the Sojus 5 to the Sojus 4 spaceship.

For the first time in history some postalic covers ( 4 flown covers) have been brought by the Sojus 5 crew in space and handed over to the Sojus 4 cosmonaut Schatalow when they came over to Sojus 4 from Sojus 5, so called up from that time , space mail.


After the MIR station from Russia has been destroyed 2001 by enter the earth atmosphere after the last visit of unmanned Progress M1-5, the current and new  orbitalsation , the International Space Station (ISS), has been used since the first docking of Sojus TM-31 in october 2000 and should be in function at least until 2020.


The differnet manned spaceships which reached the ISS have been russian Sojus spaceships of different types and the americane Space Shuttle (STS) spaceships.

The STS program of USA has been started with the first launch of a Space Shuttle, the STS 1 (Young and Crippen, Columbia) on 12 april 1981.

The last one was the Space Shuttle STS 135 (Atlantis) launched on 8 of july 2011.

After 30 years of Space Shuttle flights with the two disasters of STS 51L (Challenger 1986)  and STS 107 (Columbia 2003), the USA stopped further flights with the Space Shuttle due to too high costs. (pls see the chapter STS-Space Shuttle flights)

Since that time only the russian manned Sojus spacecrafts are today able to reach and dock to the ISS.

On the other hand the chinese Shenzhou missions are today the second possibility to reach space with manned spacecrafts,  at the moment to their own Orbitalstation Tiangong-1 ,which based as well originally on the development of the crew from Peenemünde. (pls see the chapter Shenzhou flights)


Starting with the first rocket trials in the early 30s of the last century until today 2013, that means around over 80 years , we have seen a huge and very fast development of manned and unmanned spacecrafts , where the milestones have been the launch of the A4/V2 rocket (1942), the launch of the satellit Sputnik 1 (1957), first man in space Yuri Gagarin with Wostok 1 (1961), first man on the Moon Neil Armstrong with Apollo 11 (1969), development of the different orbitalstations from Saljut 1 to ISS and the Space Shuttle flights which could recovered after their missions and could used more often.


The starting point of all this achievements have been on one hand the experiments of the pioneers with the rocket trials for delivery of mail via rockets and on the other hand the calculations and development of the theories by Oberth, Ziolkowski and Goddard and realize the vehicles to reach space.

The main pioneers have been very strong influenced by the romans of Jules Vernes and Max Valier and as well of the very famous german movie from Fritz Lang 1929  "Frau im Mond", where Oberth and Willy Ley have given already technical support.


This two groups with their different objectives have been at the end of the day both responsible for the very fast achievement of the modern manned space flight, with the current option to reach once again the Moon shortly and in some further years our next planet in the solar system, the Mars, and may be we will get from there Marsletters (Marsbriefe) similar to the very famous Moonletters (Mondbriefe) -:).


I will not close this introduction and will not forget to honor the tragic accidents and disasters  where the astronauts and cosmonauts  and other people died in the history of manned spaceflight exploration which happend during the last decades from the beginning in 1961.

A short list is given below:



           Balloon Ossoawiachim I     launch    and      crash     30.01.1934

Crew: P.F.Fedossenko, A.B.Wassenko, J.D.Usyskin

During landing procedure the light cabin disconnected from the balloon,complete crew died


           Sojus 1;                                launch         23.04.1967            crash         24.12.2967

Crew; Wladimir Komarow,

He died during landing due to  not open of the parachute



          Sojus 11:                               launch         06.06.1971             crash         29.06.1971

Crew: Georgi Dobrowolski, Wladislaw Wolkow, Viktor Pazajew,

Complete crew died during landing malfunction of walve ( missing of O2 in cabin)



           Apollo 1: (Saturn 204)                                            firedisaster        27.01.1967  

Crew: Virgil Grissom, Edward White, Roger Chaffee,

Test on ground of Apollo 1 on the top of Saturn V, fire in cabin after

electric malfunction due to 100 % of Oxigene in cabin, complete crew died 



          Space Shuttle STS-51L (Challenger)          launch  and    crash        28.01.1986

Crew: Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick,

          Gregory  Jarvis,  Christa McAuliffe 

During launch there was a problem with the tank and a leckage relaesed hot gases and fuel, the rocket has been destroyed after 73 seconds, the complete crew died by crashing the cabin with

330 Km/h on the surface of the atlantic ocean after 2.45 minutes




          Space Shuttle STS-107 (Columbia)            launch   16.01.2003    crash   01.02.2003

Crew: Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown,

           Laurel Clarke, Ilan Ramon 

During launch one wing was hit  by a piece of the tankisolation and during landing this wing got too hot by entering the earthatmosphere so that the wing has been destroyed and the spaceshuttle collapsed, complete crew died.


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