TSTI is proud to be able to bring you our acclaimed Understanding Space Course 100% online. Available to both space professionals as well as the general public, this course is designed to build your appreciation and understanding for the history and complex requirements of space missions.

Keeping in the spirit of learning about the history of space and its intrepid explorers, we’ve put together a brief overview of two events whose legacies continue to define space exploration to this day.

The First Man in Space

April 12th is a significant date in the history of space exploration. On this day in 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human being to travel to space. Traveling on board the spacecraft Vostok 1, Gagarin orbited the Earth at an altitude of 187 miles in just under 89 minutes. Upon returning to Earth, Gagarin was an instant hero in the Soviet Union and an international celebrity.

The success of Vostik 1 was viewed as a victory over the United States within the Soviet Union, and Soviet propaganda touted the success as evidence of communism’s supremacy over Western capitalism. And while Alan Shepard, the first American in space, made his journey just three weeks after Gagarin, the triumph remained with the Soviets’. This was compounded by the fact that the Soviets had launched a second successful mission with the flight of cosmonaut Gherman Titov in August 1961. John Glenn wouldn’t complete his first space mission until February of 1962.

Gagarin’s, and by extension the Soviet Union’s, success caused a stir in the United States. As another theater of the Cold War, space became the arena in which each side fought to prove its supremacy over the other. After Alan Shepard’s successful mission, President John F. Kennedy declared that the United States would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. By the end of the year, NASA had laid the foundations for the Apollo lunar-landing program.

Space Shuttle Columbia

April 12th also marks the 35th anniversary of the launch of the first reusable manned spacecraft, the space shuttle Columbia. Propelled by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, the craft would launch like a rocket, but would detach from those booster and land like an airplane.

NASA began discussion of the concept of a re-usable spacecraft in 1966 while considering which programs would follow the Apollo missions once they ended. Serious development of such a craft was put off for year by budgetary constraints, but when it became apparent that the moon-landing was inevitable, development began in earnest. A prototype, christened as the Enterprise, entered into production in June 1974. The Columbia followed soon after in March 1975.

The space shuttle Columbia flew 28 missions in its lifetime and spent more than 300 days in outer space before a tragic accident ended its space-faring days in February 2003. In the final minutes before it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, the shuttle lost contact with NASA before breaking up into pieces and falling to the earth. None of the crew survived.

Contact TSTI today, and register for our Understanding Space Course because the history of space exploration is the history of the human race. It’s important to understand where we have been as a species in order to design a better future for the ones who will follow us. We can help show you the way.