Moments In Space

A half century has elapsed, and more than 6,000 spacecraft launched, between the dawn of the Space Age -- when the CBS anchor described the beep of the first artificial satellite as a "report from Man's farthest frontier" -- and the lift-off of Dawn, a spacecraft on an eight-year journey to an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. And television has covered it all - or some of it anyway.

What constitutes the "farthest frontier" has had to be re-defined. Current unmanned space probes are traveling hundreds of millions of miles from Earth. The trip from Earth to the moon was 238,000 miles. Sputnik was never further from the surface of the Earth than 559 miles.

Click here to view our 50 Years In Space video library.

1957 - The Space Age Begins

the world's first artificial satellite, on October 4, 1957. Though only the size of a basketball, and weighing about 183 pounds, it inaugurated the Space Race, and even the Space Age. At the time, the announcement caused confusion and alarm but also admiration in the United States, as is clear from these excerpts from a CBS News special report broadcast two days later.
"...How did the Russians beat us?" correspondent Howard K. Smith asks Homer Newell, science program coordinator of Project Vanguard, the U.S. satellite program (and future NASA official); Dr. Newell's reply, at least seen from the perspective of 50 years later, is hilarious.

A note on Daniel Schorr's report from Moscow: Only his voice is heard; what viewers saw on their screen is an early-generation teleprompter. With only one satellite in the air, there was, of course, no satellite transmission in 1957.

1961 - The Space Race

First Man In Space

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space on April 12, 1961, when he successfully orbited the Earth in a 108-minute flight. (For an animated look at his flight, click here)

"I do not regard the first man in space [being Russian] as a sign of the weakening of the free world," said President John F. Kennedy at a press conference full of obviously frustrated people, excerpts of which are included in the CBS News Special Report that day.

The Red Stuff

Also interviewed was astronaut John Glenn, "This is not a stunt being done for international prestige or propaganda," he said, talking in general about the space program, before a scene of …well, stunts… that could best be described as weightless.

Kennedy's Commitment
In an address to Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed putting an American on the moon by the end of the decade. He acknowledged the space race. "But this is not merely a race," he said. "Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others." He also called for the development of telecommunications and weather satellites, and for a rocket "for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself."
His speech came 20 days after Alan Shepard, on May 5, became the first American to travel in space, albeit for only about 15 minutes.

Read a transcript of Kennedy's remarks

1962 - John Glenn

When John Glenn orbited the earth three times on February 20, 1962, he was the fifth man to go into space (two Americans, two Russians preceded him); his trip wasn't even the longest of the five. But his flight, and his persona, touched a chord with the American public. The journey of Friendship 7 (Shepard's flight had been called Freedom 7) set the tone in many ways for the next decade of intense public interest in space, and epitomized all of the manned American missions - the six Mercury (one-man) flights from 1961 to 1963, the 10 Gemini (two-man) flights in 1965 and 1966 and even the 11 Apollo (three-man) missions from 1968 to 1972.

Live television captured the countdown - "T-minus 10…" and then the launch, and frequently followed up with animated graphics, narrated from beginning to end by the amiable baritone of Walter Cronkite.
Thirty-six years later, when he was 77 years old, John Glenn went up in space again, the oldest person ever to do so.

In 2002, at the commencement of the year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the flight of the Wright Brothers (the first powered and sustained human flight) in 1903, Senator Glenn, then 81 years old, was interviewed at the National Air and Space Museum, in the Milestones of Flight Hall, surrounded by the Wright Brothers plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane flown solo across the Atlantic by Charles Lindburgh in 1927, Chuck Yeager's X-1 plane that broke the speed of sound in 1947, and the Friendship 7 space capsule.
1967 - 1972, Mission: The Moon

Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chafee, the crew of Apollo I, die on January 27, 1967 after a fire breaks out during training in their command module.

Four months later, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komaroz is the first person to die during an actual space flight. Between 1967 and 2007, 22 astronauts and cosmonauts have died while in a spacecraft.

1969 - First Man On The Moon

The Apollo 11 astronauts travel to the moon, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on its surface for two and a half hours, on July 20, 1969. To get from Kennedy's proposal to the reality of a man on the moon, it took more than eight years of extraordinary effort and ingenuity, the effort of some 400,000 workers and 20,000 companies and universites, and more money than was ever spent on a peacetime project in history, some $24 billion.
It is safe to say that the trip to the moon, and especially the walk on it, was watched by more people around the world than any other event in (Earth) history.

In 2005, Ed Bradley talked with the famously reticent Neil Armstrong.

Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Charlie Duke, an astronaut on a later flight to the moon, talk about their participation in the 2007 documentary about the only 12 men who visited another world, "In The Shadow of the Moon."
Unmanned Space Traveling

Though not given live television coverage, the unmanned spacecraft in many ways work even harder than their human counterparts. Voyager I and II are unmanned spaced probes launched in 1977 that over the course of three decades have been working their way beyond the solar system, taking pictures as they go.
1981 - The Present, The Space Shuttle Era

The first Space Shuttle is launched into space on April 12, 1981 -- and, unlike the Mercury, Gemini or Apollo programs that preceded it, the spacecraft lands back down on earth like an airplane, able to be used over and over again.

Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space. This was 20 years after Soviet cosmonaut Alentina Tereshkova became the first woman of any nationality in space.

It would not have been so much later for Americans, if the "Mercury 13" had been allowed into space.
1986 - Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

On January 18, the 25th launch of a shuttle, the Challenger explodes 73 seconds after launching, killing all seven aboard.
1990 - Hubble Telescope

(AP Photo/NASA)
The telescope is launched into orbit around the earth, providing scientists with vast new stores of information (such as the date of the universe) and the public with some spectacular images, such as the birth of a star. Having served faithfully for more than 15 years, Hubble was in trouble, victim of wear-and-tear. NASA committed to fixing it.
1998 - The International Space Station

(AP Photo/NASA)
The first two ships, one Russian, the other American, form the beginning of the International Space Station, and missions to it ever since have been making it larger.
2003 -- The Shuttle Columbia Disaster

February 1, The Space Shuttle Columbia breaks up on re-entry, killing all seven aboard. There were no shuttle launches for the following two and a half years.

On October 15, 2003 Yang Liwei becomes the first astronaut from China. Two years later, two more Chinese astronauts go into space.

President George W. Bush gives a speech laying out his plans for the future of space exploration, including the completion of the International Space Station by 2010, and new manned missions to the moon.
(transcript)(Interactive analyzing the speech)

Over the Mojave Desert, the privately-built SpaceShipOne snagged its designers the $10 million prize from a private foundation for successfully launching twice into space.
This is one sign of budding movement. A number of entrepreneurs -- including the founders of, Paypal, Virgin, and Microsoft -- are investing their own money in developing private space enterprises. "Space tourists" are paying millions for the chance to buy a space ticket.


Almost exactly 50 years after Sputnik, on September 27, 2007, a Delta II rocket blasts off, carrying the Dawn spacecraft on its four-year voyage to an asteroid called Vesta and its eight-year voyage to Ceres, which is called a dwarf planet (as is Pluto, now).