1981 — 1996

First Reusable Space Vehicle

April 12, 1981

The space shuttle Columbia takes John Young and Robert Crippen into space. It launches like a rocket and lands like an airplane. This is the first manned American space mission since the Apollo-Soyuz flight in July 1975.

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space (AP/Wide World)

First American Woman in Space

June, 18, 1983

Sally Ride is part of the crew for the seventh space shuttle flight, STS-7. The first African-American astronaut, Guion Bluford, follows on the next flight on August 30.

First Woman to Do a Space Walk

July 17, 1984

Svetlana Savitskaya becomes the first woman to do a space walk. With her partner, Vladimir Dzhanibekov, she conducts welding experiments for over three hours outside the Soviet space station Salyut 7. Savitskaya had become the second woman to fly in space during a Soviet mission in 1982.

Explosion of the space shuttle Challenger (AP/Wide World)

First Civilian Death

January 28, 1986

The space shuttle Challenger explodes, killing all seven crew members — including the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. The other crew members were Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Judy Resnik, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, and Gregory Jarvis.

First Year in Space

December 21, 1988

Musa Manarov and Vladimir Titov complete 366 days on the Russian space station, Mir. This record is broken on March 22, 1995, when cosmonaut Valery Poyakov returns to Earth after spending 437 days and 18 hours (1.19 years) in orbit.

In-orbit repair of the Hubble space telescope (NASA)

First Space Telescope

April 25, 1990

The crew of space shuttle mission STS-31 deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. Soon thereafter, the Hubble's primary mirror is found to be damaged. In December 1993, the crew of space shuttle STS-61 corrects the problem during space walks watched live on television by millions of people. The Hubble Space Telescope then provides the first images of distant galaxies and planets outside our solar system.

First Spacecraft to Leave the Solar System

September 22, 1990

Pioneer 10, launched on March 2, 1972, reaches a distance 50 times farther from the sun than Earth, becoming the first spacecraft to leave the solar system. Earlier in its mission, it had also become the first spacecraft to cross the asteroid belt and reach Jupiter. Currently, it is 6.5 billion miles away, heading toward the constellation Taurus.

Computer-generated image of Phase II of the International Space Station (NASA)

First International Space Station (ISS) Mission

February 3, 1994

Phase 1 of the International Space Station (ISS) program begins with the flight of Russian Sergei Krikalev on an American space shuttle during the STS-60 mission. In March of 1995, Dr. Norm Thagard becomes the first American to stay on Russian space station Mir. Phase 1 ends with the return of Andy Thomas from Mir in June 1998.

Shannon Lucid returning from Mir on the space shuttle Atlantis (NASA)

First American to Spend Six Months in Space

September 26, 1996

Shannon Lucid sets a record time in space — for both a woman and an American. After five shuttle flights and six months (189 days) on the Russian space station Mir, her total time in space is 223 days.