Key dates in the space race:
*Oct. 4, 1957: The Soviets launch Sputnik I, the world's first orbiting satellite, setting off near panic in the USA.
*Nov. 3: The Soviets launch a dog, named Laika, into space. Laika dies during the flight but is credited with being the first living creature in orbit.
*Dec. 6: The first U.S. attempt to launch a satellite fails.
*Jan. 31, 1958: The first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, is launched successfully.
*July 29: President Eisenhower signs a law establishing NASA.
*April 9, 1959: NASA announces its first group of U.S. astronauts, the "Mercury Seven."
*May 28: The U.S. launches two monkeys, Able and Baker, into orbit. They become the first living creatures to survive a U.S. spaceflight and be recovered.
*April 12, 1961: The Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space.
*May 5: Alan Shepard is the first American to reach space.
*Feb. 20, 1962: John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth.
*June 16, 1963: Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space.
*March 18, 1965: Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov makes the world's first spacewalk.
*March 23: A two-man U.S. crew, Gus Grissom and John Young, makes the first manned flight of the USA's Gemini program.
*June 3: From a Gemini capsule, astronaut Ed White is the first American to perform a spacewalk.
*Dec. 15: Gemini VII and Gemini VI-A make the first rendezvous of two spacecraft in space, a key step in preparing to go to the moon.
*Jan. 27, 1967: During a launch pad test for Apollo 1, astronauts White, Grissom and Roger Chaffee die in a fire in their capsule. They are the first astronauts killed in the U.S. space program.
*April 24: A Soviet cosmonaut dies during the first manned test of the new Soyuz capsule, becoming the first reported death in that nation's space program.
*Oct. 11, 1968: The USA returns to manned flights with launch of Apollo 7, carrying three astronauts.
*Oct. 26: The Soviets resume manned flights by launching a Soyuz capsule.
*Dec. 24: The USA widens the gap in the space race as Apollo 8 -- Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders -- orbits the moon.
*July 20, 1969: The USA wins the race to the moon when Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to walk on its surface, followed by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin.
*April 13, 1970: An oxygen tank on Apollo 13 explodes, but the crew -- Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise -- manages to pilot the spacecraft back to Earth after aborting a moon landing. Their story became a hit movie in 1995.
*April 19, 1971: The Soviets, no longer chasing the moon, launch world's first space station, Salyut 1.
*June 30: First three-member crew to board Salyut 1 dies re-entering Earth's atmosphere.
*Dec. 14, 1972: Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, is the last man to leave the moon.
*May 14, 1973: Skylab, the first U.S. space station, is launched.
*July 15, 1975: The first U.S.-Soviet spaceflight, the Apollo-Soyuz test project, launches and docks in space to conduct experiments.
*July 11, 1979: Skylab is allowed to fall from orbit.
*April 12, 1981: USA launches first space shuttle, Columbia, carrying Young and Robert Crippen.
*June 18, 1983: Sally Ride becomes first U.S. woman in space.
*Jan. 28, 1986: Shuttle Challenger explodes after liftoff, killing seven crewmembers: Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe.
*Feb. 20: The Soviets launch first part of the Mir space station.
*Sept. 29, 1988: The USA resumes space shuttle flights with the launch of Discovery.
*Nov. 20, 1998: Seven years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia launches first piece of the International Space Station.
*March 23, 2001: Russia allows Mir station to fall from orbit.
*Feb. 1, 2003: Shuttle Columbia disintegrates on re-entry, killing seven crewmembers: Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark.
*Jan. 14, 2004: President Bush announces plan to return to the moon and, eventually, go to Mars.
*July 26, 2005: Shuttle flights resume with launch of Discovery.
Sources: NASA, USA TODAYresearch
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