50 years since the first moon landing: What have we done since?

This weekend marks 50 years since the historic first moon landing of 1969.

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rocketing astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins into space.

Four days later, on July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin landed Apollo 11's module, the Eagle, on the moon and stepped onto the lunar surface (July 21, NZ time). 

An estimated 650 million people watched the televised moon landing and heard Armstrong declare the moment as "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", according to NASA.

Here's what mankind has achieved in the five decades since that iconic moment.

Japan enters the space race

On February 11, 1970, Japan joined the space race with the successful launching of a LAMBA 4S5 rocket. The success made Japan only the fourth country after the United States, Russia and France - and the first in Asia - to put a satellite into orbit on its own.

Apollo 13 disaster

On April 13, 1970 astronauts had to abandon their mission of landing on the moon when an explosion crippled the command ship.

The astronauts - James Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise - landed safely in the South Pacific on April 17 after their stricken spaceship limped 400,000km home with the aid of the lander that was meant to have put them on the moon.

China joins the space race

The People's Republic of China launched its first artificial Earth satellite on April 24, 1970, to make it the fifth member of the select club of countries to have launched and orbited their own satellites.

Driving on the moon

Apollo 15 astronauts took the first lunar drive on January 1, 1971. The crew were Commander David R Scott, command module pilot Alfred J Worden and lunar module pilot James B Irwin.

Salyut.
Salyut. Photo credit: Getty

The first space station

The USSR established first space station 'Salyut' on April 23, 1971, carried into space by spaceship Soyuz-10. Its crew was made up of commander of the ship Colonel Vladimir Shatalov, engineer Alexei Yeliseyev and test engineer Nikolai Rukavishnikov.

Soyuz disaster

The crew of Soyuz II, returning home from Salyut, died when the crew capsule depressurized during preparations for re-entry on June 7, 1971.

US launches its space station

The US launched Skylab on February 28, 1973.

Mankind reaches Mars

Soviet interplanetary stations MARS-6 and MARS-7 reached the outskirts of the planet Mars on January 1, 1974. The module of the Mars-6 station reached the surface of the planet for the first time ever.

Europe joins forces 

The European Space Agency (ESA) formed on May 30, 1975. Ten countries signed a convention in Paris, formally setting up a new space agency that aimed to have European scientists in space by 1980. 

Cold War freeze

The US and USSR teamed up for the Apollo-Soyuz project, ending the Cold War space race, in February 1975.

Water on Mars

Frost is discovered on Mars by scientists working on the Viking II mission in September 1976.

First probe to Jupiter

The United States' Voyager 1 neared Jupiter and started to send back photographs of the largest planet in the solar system in January 1979.

Columbia ahead of lift-off.
Columbia ahead of lift-off. Photo credit: Getty

The shuttle programme begins

In October 1968, NASA began early studies of space shuttle designs. The shuttle program was formally launched on January 5, 1972. The first fully functional Shuttle Orbiter was built in Palmdale, California. Columbia was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979, and was first launched on April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's space flight.

India joins the space race

India put its first satellite into orbit on August 10, 1979.

First female US astronaut

Sally Ride became the first female American astronaut on June 18, 1983, aboard the Challenger. The USSR's first woman in space had flown 20 years earlier.

The Challenger disaster

Space shuttle Challenger exploded during lift-off on January 28, 1986. The flight lasted just 73 seconds after a rubber seal in one of the shuttle's twin booster rockets failed, triggering an explosion. 

The Challenger explodes.
The Challenger explodes. Photo credit: Getty

First long-term space station

Russia's Mir launched in February 1986, and would host cosmonauts until 2001.

Edge of the solar system

Voyager 2 reached the solar system's furthest known planet, Neptune, on August 25, 1989. 

First female captain

Discovery blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre on February 2, 1995, with Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Collins in charge - the first woman to occupy the pilot's seat in a shuttle.

Oldest man in space

Veteran astronaut John Glenn, 77, blasted off aboard the space shuttle Discovery on October 29, 1998, a hero all over again 36 years after his first historic mission.

International Space Station construction begins

Russia ushered in a new era in space exploration by launching the first module of the billion dollar International Space Station on November 20, 1998.

Space tourism begins

American Dennis Tito became the first tourist in space on April 28, 2001 after paying the Russian space program US$20 million.

Columbia tragedy

Seventeen years after the Challenger disaster, the shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry in February 2003 over Texas. Television showed pictures of what appeared to be a crack on the wing of the shuttle.

China's first manned flight

China's first taikonaut made it into space on October 15, 2003.

Rovers sent to Mars

NASA scientists launched the Mars Expedition Rover into space on July 7, 2003 . The six-wheeled robotic rover Spirit went for a spin on Martian soil for the first time on January 15, 2004. 

Humans to Mars?

US President George W Bush proposed a new space programme in 2004 that would send humans back to the moon and establish a base on Mars. It didn't eventuate.

Saturn, taken by Cassini.
Saturn, taken by Cassini. Photo credit: Getty

Cassini arrives at Saturn

Cassini first sent back close-up pictures of Saturn in July 2004.

Armageddon-style impact

NASA successfully collided a spacecraft with the Temple 1 comet on July 3, 2005.

India makes it to the moon

India became the fourth country to land a craft on the moon in November 2008.

Commercial spaceflight begins

A Virgin Galactic spaceship completed its first solo test flight on October 10, 2010 in Mojave, California. Called the VSS Enterprise, the world's first commercial manned spaceship was carried to an altitude of 23,700m by airplane and then released to glide for 11 minutes before it landed at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

It was followed in Decemeber by a rocket, developed by internet entrepreneur Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies, which actually reached orbit. 

Shuttle programme ends

The shuttle Atlantis was the last American space shuttle to be launched into space on July 8, 2011.

India reaches Mars

India's low-cost mission to Mars successfully entered the red planet's orbit on September 24, 2014, making India the first country in Asia to reach Mars, after an attempt by regional rival China failed to leave earth's orbit in 2011. 

First commercial space death

On October 31, 2014, a passenger spaceship being developed by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic company crashed during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other.

Space food

Astronauts took the first bites of food grown entirely in space on August 10, 2015, harvested from their own space garden on board the International Space Station.

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket.
Rocket Lab's Electron rocket. Photo credit: Rocket Lab

New Zealand enters the space race

New Zealand became the 11th spacefaring nation in January 2018 when Rocket Lab put the 'Humanity Star' into orbit.

To the sun

NASA launched a probe that will head closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft before it on August 12, 2018. The Parker Solar Probe, carried by Delta IV, is a robotic spacecraft the size of a small car. Its planned seven-year mission will fly into the Sun's corona, within 6.1 million km of the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.

And beyond

NASA's Voyager 2 entered interstellar space on December 10, 2018.

Far side of the moon

China achieved the first soft landing on the far side of the moon on January 3, 2019. It carried seeds which became the first plants grown on the moon. 

Quakes on Mars

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California reported that NASA's robotic probe InSight detected and measured what scientists believe to be a "marsquake" on April 23, 2019, marking the first time a likely seismological tremor has been recorded on another planet. 

The breakthrough came five months after InSight, the first spacecraft designed specifically to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down on the surface of Mars to begin its two-year seismological mission on the red planet.

Supermassive black hole imaged

The first-ever photo of a black hole was revealed on April 10, 2019 - scientists used a global network of telescopes to gain insight into celestial objects with gravitational fields so strong, no matter or light can escape.

Reuters / Newshub.

 

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