Humanity has racked up extraordinary feats of spaceflight since NASA's first moon mission 50 years ago. Here are the greatest hits.
- December 21 marks the 50th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 8 moon mission, which was the first crewed flight to the moon.
- Humanity has since racked up an impressive list of firsts in human and robotic spaceflight.
- Our spacecraft have visited every planet in the solar system, reached interstellar space, sampled comets and asteroids, enabled astronauts to live in orbit for two decades, and more.
The year 1968 is not exactly remembered as a great time in the US, let alone on Earth.
"There was the Vietnam War going on, it was not a popular war, especially with the younger people," Jim Lovell, a retired NASA astronaut, previously told Business Insider. "There were riots, there were two assassinations of prominent people during that period, and so things were looking kind of bad in this country."
But Lovell and his fellow crew members' unprecedented mission to the moon - Apollo 8 - brought much of America and the world together.
They entered the history books as the first humans ever to leave Earth's clutches, reach the moon, and orbit it. They were also the first to see and personally describe the humbling splendor of our planet from 240,000 miles away.
"When I put my thumb up to the window I could completely hide it," Lovell said. "Then I realized that behind my thumb that I'm hiding this Earth, and there are about 6 billion people that are all striving to live there."
Since that first lunar flight almost exactly 50 years ago, humanity has reached even farther and more ambitiously into space.
Here are some of the most important feats of human and robotic spaceflight since Apollo 8.
Apollo 8 astronauts launched on the first-ever crewed moon mission on December 21, 1968.
Apollo 11 put people on the lunar surface for the first time on July 20, 1969.
Venera 7 became the first robot to land on another planet (Venus) on December 15, 1970.
The Soviet Union launched Salyut 1, the world's first space station, on April 19, 1971.
Mariner 9 became the first satellite to orbit another planet (Mars) on November 14, 1971.
Mars 3 achieved the first successful soft landing on the Martian surface on December 2, 1971.
Apollo 17, NASA's last crewed mission to the moon, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. No crewed spacecraft has landed on the moon since.
Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to fly by Jupiter on December 3, 1973.
Mariner 10 made the first visit to Mercury on March 29, 1974.
Viking 1 became the first US lander to reach Mars on July 20, 1976.
NASA's twin Voyager probes launched in 1977, starting a "Grand Tour" of the solar system that was made possible by a rare planetary alignment.
Pioneer 11 made the first flyby of Saturn on September 1, 1979.
Space shuttle Columbia, the world's first reusable spacecraft, first launched on April 12, 1981.
American Bruce McCandless II completed the first spacewalk without a tether on February 7, 1984.
Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Uranus in the first-ever flyby of the planet on January 24, 1986.
Voyager 2 then came within 3,000 miles of Neptune in the first-ever flyby of that planet on August 25, 1989.
The Hubble Space Telescope launched on April 24, 1990.
Cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov returned to Earth after the longest human stay in space on June 1, 1995.
Cassini launched on October 16, 1997 — the first (and so far only) probe dedicated to exploring Saturn and its moons.
NASA's Deep Space 1, the first interplanetary robot to use ion thrusters, launched on October 24, 1998.
NASA launched the Stardust mission to collect the first comet samples on February 7, 1999.
The first crew members docked at the International Space Station on November 2, 2000.
A spacecraft landed on an asteroid for the first time on February 12, 2001.
Dennis Tito became the world's first space tourist on April 28, 2001.
China sent its first taikonaut into space on October 15, 2003.
A private spaceship flew past the edge of space twice in less than a week on October 4, 2004. This feat led its builder, Scaled Composites, to win a $10 million prize.
The European Space Agency's Huygens probe became the first to land on the moon of another planet (Saturn's moon Titan) on January 14, 2005.
Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang completed China's first spacewalk on September 27, 2008.
SpaceX launched its Falcon 1 rocket on December 8, 2010, making it the first company to send a spacecraft into orbit on a privately developed rocket.
A Japanese spacecraft brought the first samples of an asteroid back to Earth on June 13, 2010.
Robonaut 2 became the first humanoid robot in space on February 24, 2011.
NASA launched the last mission of its space shuttle program on July 8, 2011.
Voyager 1 entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012.
The European Space Agency's Philae lander touched down on a comet for the first time on November 12, 2014.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft made the first visit to a dwarf planet on March 6, 2015.
New Horizons visited Pluto and its moons for the first time in history on July 14, 2015.
SpaceX landed its first orbital rocket booster on December 21, 2015.
SpaceX launched a car to Mars with a Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6, 2018.
The Juno probe photographed the stormy, swirling poles of Jupiter for the first time on August 27, 2016.
China launched the first mission to touch the far side of the moon on December 7, 2018.
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