Human spaceflight (or manned spaceflight or crewed spaceflight) is space travel with humans on the spacecraft. When a spacecraft is manned, it can be piloted directly, as opposed to machine or robotic space probes controlled remotely by humans or through automatic methods onboard the spacecraft.
The first human spaceflight was launched on April 12, 1961 by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Currently, only Russia and China maintain human spaceflight capability independent of international cooperation. As of 2011, human spaceflights are being actively launched by the Soyuz programme conducted by the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Shenzhou program conducted by the China National Space Administration. This does not account for private non-government activities.
The US lost human spaceflight launch capability upon retirement of the Space Shuttle on July 21, 2011. Under the Bush administration, the Constellation program included plans for canceling the Shuttle and replacing it with the capability for spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit. In the 2011 United States federal budget, the Obama administration proposed canceling Constellation in part due to Constellation being over budget and behind schedule while not innovating and investing in critical new technologies. Under the new plan, NASA would rely on transportation services provided by the private sector, such as Space X's Falcon 9. The period between the retirement of the Shuttle and the initial operational capability of new systems (either Constellation or the new commercial proposals), similar to the gap between the cancellation of Apollo and the first Space Shuttle flight, is often referred to as the human spaceflight gap.
In recent years there has been a gradual movement towards more commercial forms of spaceflight. A number of non-governmental startup companies have sprung up in recent years, hoping to create a space tourism industry. For a list of such companies, and the spacecraft they are currently building, see List of private spaceflight companies. NASA has also tried to stimulate private spaceflight through programs such as Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) and Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). With its 2011 budget proposals released in early February 2010, the Obama administration is moving towards a model where commercial companies would supply NASA with transportation services of both crew and cargo to low Earth orbit. The vehicles used for these services would then serve both NASA and potential commercial customers. NASA intends to spend $6 billion in the coming years to develop commercial crew vehicles, using a model similar to that used under COTS.
The first human spaceflight took place on April 12, 1961, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made one orbit around the Earth aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, launched by the Soviet space program and designed by the rocket scientist Sergey Korolyov. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on board Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. Both spacecraft were launched by Vostok 3KA launch vehicles. Alexei Leonov made the first spacewalk when he left the Voskhod 2 on March 8, 1965. Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to do so on July 25, 1984.
Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon during Apollo 11
The United States became the second nation to achieve manned spaceflight, with the suborbital flight of astronaut Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7, carried out as part of Project Mercury. The spacecraft was launched on May 5, 1961 on a Redstone rocket. The first U.S. orbital flight was that of John Glenn aboard Friendship 7, which was launched February 20, 1962 on an Atlas rocket. Since 1981 the U.S. has conducted all its human spaceflight missions with reusable Space Shuttles. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. Eileen Collins was the first female Shuttle pilot, and with Shuttle mission STS-93 in July 1999 she became the first woman to command a U.S. spacecraft.
Launch of Shenzhou 5 in 2003
The People's Republic of China became the third nation to achieve human spaceflight when Yang Liwei launched into space on a Chinese-made vehicle, the Shenzhou 5, on October 15, 2003. The flight made China the third nation to have launched its own manned spacecraft using its own launcher. Previous European (Hermes) and Japanese (HOPE-X) domestic manned programs were abandoned after years of development, as was the first Chinese attempt, the Shuguang spacecraft.
The farthest destination for a human spaceflight mission has been the Moon. The only manned missions to the Moon have been those conducted by NASA as part of the Apollo program. The first such mission, Apollo 8, orbited the Moon but did not land. The first Moon landing mission was Apollo 11, during which—on July 20, 1969—Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the Moon. Six missions landed in total, numbered Apollo 11–17, excluding Apollo 13. Altogether twelve men walked on the Moon, the only humans to have been on an extraterrestrial body. The Soviet Union discontinued its program for lunar orbiting and landing of human spaceflight missions on June 24, 1974 when Valentin Glushko became General Designer of NPO Energiya.
Mir orbiting the Earth, a space station where many human spaceflight records were broken
The longest single human spaceflight is that of Valeriy Polyakov, who left earth on January 8, 1994, and did not return until March 22, 1995 (a total of 437 days 17 hr. 58 min. 16 sec. aboard). Sergei Krikalyov has spent the most time of anyone in space, 803 days, 9 hours, and 39 seconds altogether. The longest period of continuous human presence in space is over 10 years, 10 months on the International Space Station. The previous record for MIR was 3,644 days, eight days short of 10 years, spanning the launch of Soyuz TM-8 on September 5, 1989 to the landing of Soyuz TM-29 on August 28, 1999.
For many years beginning in 1961, only two countries, the USSR (later Russia) and United States, had their own astronauts. Citizens of other nations flew in space, beginning with the flight of Vladimir Remek, a Czech, on a Soviet spacecraft on March 2, 1978. As of 2010, citizens from 38 nations (including space tourists) have flown in space aboard Soviet, American, Russian, and Chinese spacecraft.
Currently have human spaceflight programs.
Confirmed and dated plans for human spaceflight programs.
Plans for human spaceflight on the simplest form (suborbital spaceflight, etc.).
Plans for human spaceflight on the extreme form (space stations, etc.).
Once had official plans for human spaceflight programs, but have since been abandoned.
As of 2011, human spaceflight missions have been conducted by the former Soviet Union/(Russian Federation), the United States, the People's Republic of China and by the private spaceflight company Scaled Composites.
Several other countries and space agencies have announced and begun human spaceflight programs by their own technology, including India (ISRO), Ecuador (EXA), Japan (JAXA), Iran (ISA) and Malaysia (MNSA).
Currently the following spacecraft and spaceports are used for launching human spaceflights:
- Soyuz with Soyuz rocket—Baikonur Cosmodrome
- International Space Station (ISS)—Assembled in orbit; crews transported by previous spacecraft
- Shenzhou spacecraft with Long March rocket—Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center
Historically, the following spacecraft and spaceports have also been used for human spaceflight launches:
- Vostok—Baikonur Cosmodrome
- Mercury—Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
- Voskhod—Baikonur Cosmodrome
- X-15—Edwards Air Force Base, (two internationally recognized suborbital flights in program)
- Gemini—Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
- Apollo—Kennedy Space Center (Apollo 7 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station)
- Salyut space station—Baikonur Cosmodrome
- Almaz space station—Baikonur Cosmodrome (Almaz was a series of military space stations under cover of the civilian name Salyut)
- Skylab space station—Kennedy Space Center
- Mir space station—Baikonur Cosmodrome
- SpaceShipOne with White Knight—Mojave Spaceport
- Space Shuttle—Kennedy Space Center