Long before our journey to the far side of the moon, there were other space odysseys.
The first satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched by the USSR on October 4, 1957, setting off a veritable space race. What the Soviets could do, the Americans could, too.
Sputnik 1 emitted radio signals for 21 days, while its transmitter batteries lasted. With the next milestone, the Soviets added another resplendent feather to their hats. They sent the first man into space.
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into space on April 12, 1961, in a spherical Vostok 1 capsule, becoming the first man to defy Earthly gravity. He returned to the confines of terra firma safely after a 108-minute long flight.
The next space foray came less than a month after, but this round belonged to the Americans. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut to be launched into space, when his Freedom 7 took off from Florida. His flight was much shorter, only 15 minutes. The next time a man was in space was in 1962, and once again, American. On this ‘outing’, John Glenn orbited the Earth.
The following year, the Russians stole another march on the Americans, sending the first woman in space - Valentina Tereshkova – who circumambulated the Earth 48 times in three days.
Then came the circling of the moon by Apollo 8, launched on December 21, 1968. Its crew saw the Earth from afar and snapped up the moment to show the world. By now, the Americans had overtaken the Soviets in the space race.
This was followed by the giant leap for mankind moment, when on July 20, 1969, the lunar module of Apollo 11 touched down at the Sea of Tranquillity and Neil Armstrong uttered: “That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.
Armstrong and his fellow Buzz Aldrin spent almost a full day on the moon's surface. After eight days the Apollo 11 mission safely returned to Earth. From then until 1972, there were six moon landings by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an independent agency of the US government.
Having conquered the moon, the US trained its sights on other planetary frontiers -- The Viking 1 touched down on Mars on July 20, 1976, after a ten-month journey and became the first spacecraft to land on another planet successfully and perform its mission.
Then came the Voyager Missions 1 and 2, in 1977, to study the outer solar system. Although the primary focus was on Jupiter and Saturn and their respective moons, Uranus and Neptune too were in the purview of Voyager 2.
Voyager 1 was the first man-made object to enter interstellar space in 2012 and both spacecraft are expected to remain operational until about 2025.
In 1998, space rivalry had metamorphosed into collaboration. Russian rockets and American space shuttles helped establish the International Space Station (ISS), a habitable artificial satellite in low Earth orbit.
Space tourism became the newest frontier in the second millennium, when entrepreneur Dennis Tito visited the ISS, paying the reportedly astronomical sum of US $20 million for a round trip.
Blue Origin, a private space company established by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, plans to offer space tourism for the masses. (Online compilation)