List of human spaceflight programs

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For a chronological list of human spaceflights, including crews, dates and mission summaries, see List of human spaceflights.

This is a list of human spaceflight programs, including successful programs, programs that were canceled, and programs planned for the future. The criteria for what constitutes human spaceflight vary. The FAI defines spaceflight as any flight over 100 kilometers (62 mi). However, in the United States, professional, military, and commercial astronauts who travel above an altitude of 80 kilometers (50 mi) are awarded astronaut wings.

Until the 21st century, spaceflight programs were sponsored exclusively by governments, either by the military or by civilian space agencies. However, with the launch of the privately funded SpaceShipOne in 2005, a new category of spaceflight programs – commercial spaceflight – arrived.

Programs in this article are sorted by the years when their development started.


Successful programs

Vostok programme (USSR, 1956–1967)

The Vostok programme was a project that succeeded in putting a person into orbit for the first time. Sergei Korolev and Konstantin Feoktistov began, in June 1956, manned spacecraft research.1 The programme developed the Vostok spacecraft from the Zenit spy satellite project and adapted the Vostok rocket from an existing ICBM design. Just before the first release of the name Vostok to the press, it was a classified word. By August/September 1958 a division had been formed devoted to producing the first Vostok craft. The official approval (decree) for the Vostok was delayed until 22 May 1959 by competition with photo reconnaissance programs.

Vostok 1 was the first human spaceflight. The Vostok 3KA spacecraft was launched on April 12, 1961, taking into space Yuri Gagarin, a cosmonaut from the Soviet Union. The Vostok 1 mission was the first time anyone had journeyed into outer space and the first time anyone had entered into orbit.

There were six Vostok flights in total. Another seven Vostok flights (Vostok 7 to 13) were originally planned, going through to April 1966, but these were cancelled and the components recycled into the Voskhod programme, which was intended to achieve more Soviet firsts in space.

Project Mercury (USA, 1959-1963)

Mercury capsule with escape tower

Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States. It ran from 1959 through 1963 with the goal of putting a human in orbit around the Earth. The Mercury-Atlas 6 flight on 20 February 1962 was the first Mercury flight to achieve this goal.

Early planning and research was carried out by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and the program was officially conducted by the newly created NASA.

Because of their small size it was said that the Mercury spacecraft capsules were worn, not ridden. With 1.7 cubic meters of habitable volume, the capsule was just large enough for the single crew member. Inside were 120 controls: 55 electrical switches, 30 fuses and 35 mechanical levers. The spacecraft was designed by Max Faget and NASA's Space Task Group.

NASA ordered 20 production spacecraft, numbered 1 through 20, from McDonnell Aircraft Company, St. Louis, Missouri. Five of the twenty spacecraft, #10, 12, 15, 17, and 19, were not flown. Spacecraft #3 and #4 were destroyed during unmanned test flights. Spacecraft #11 sank and was recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after 38 years. Some spacecraft were modified after initial production (refurbished after launch abort, modified for longer missions, etc.) and received a letter designation after their number, examples 2A, 15B. Some spacecraft were modified twice; for example, spacecraft 15 became 15A and then 15B.

Project Apollo (USA, 1961-1975)

Apollo program insignia

The Apollo Program was a program undertaken by NASA during the years 1961–1975 with the goal of conducting manned moon landing missions. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced a goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It was accomplished on July 20, 1969, by the landing of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, with Michael Collins orbiting above during the Apollo 11 mission. Five other Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last one in 1972. These six Apollo spaceflights are the only times humans have landed on another celestial body.2

Apollo was the third human spaceflight program undertaken by NASA, the space agency of the United States. It used Apollo spacecraft and Saturn launch vehicles, which were later used for the Skylab program and the joint American-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. These later programs are thus often considered to be part of the overall Apollo program.

The goal of the program, as articulated by President Kennedy, was accomplished with only two major failures. The first failure resulted in the deaths of three astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire. The second was an in-space explosion on Apollo 13, which badly damaged the spacecraft on the moonward leg of its journey. The three astronauts aboard narrowly escaped with their lives, thanks to the efforts of flight controllers, project engineers, backup crew members and the skills of the astronauts themselves.

X-15 Missions over 100-km (USA, 1963)

X-15 in flight

The North American X-15 rocket-powered aircraft was part of the X-series of experimental aircraft, initiated with the Bell X-1, that were made for the USAF, NASA, and the USN. The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the early 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data used in aircraft and spacecraft design. It currently holds the world record for the fastest speed ever reached by a manned aircraft.3

During the X-15 program, 13 of the flights (by eight pilots) met the USAF spaceflight criteria by exceeding the altitude of 50 miles (80.47 km. 264,000 ft.), thus qualifying the pilots for astronaut status; some pilots also qualified for NASA astronaut wings.45

Of all the X-15 missions, two flights (by the same pilot) qualified as space flights, per the international FAI definition of a spaceflight by exceeding a 100 kilometer (62.137 mi, 328,084 ft) altitude.

Voskhod programme (USSR, 1964–1965)


The Voskhod programme (Russian: Восход, "ascent", "dawn") was a Soviet human spaceflight project. Voskhod development was both a follow-on to the Vostok programme, recycling components left over from that programme's cancellation following its first six flights. The two missions flown used the Voskhod spacecraft and rocket.

The Voskhod spacecraft was basically a Vostok spacecraft that had a backup, solid fuel retrorocket added to the top of the descent module. The heavier weight of the craft was made possible by improvements to the R-7 Semyorka-derived booster. The ejection seat was removed and two or three crew couches were added to the interior at a 90-degree angle to that of the Vostok crew position. However, the position of the in-flight controls was not changed, so the crew had to crane their heads 90 degrees to see the instruments.

While the Vostok programme was dedicated more towards understanding the effects of space travel and microgravity on the human body, Voskhod's two flights were more aimed towards spectacular "firsts". Although achieving the first EVA ("spacewalk") became the main success of the programme, beating the U.S. Gemini programme to put the first multi-person crew in orbit was the objective that initially motivated the programme. Once both goals were realised, the programme was abandoned. This followed the change in Soviet leadership, which was less concerned about stunt and prestige flights, and allowed the Soviet designers to concentrate on the Soyuz programme.

Project Gemini (USA, 1965–1966)

Gemini spacecraft on orbit

Project Gemini was the second human spaceflight program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It operated between Projects Mercury and Apollo, with 10 manned flights occurring in 1965 and 1966. Its objective was to develop techniques for advanced space travel, notably those necessary for Project Apollo, whose objective was to land humans on the Moon. Gemini missions included the first American extravehicular activity, and new orbital maneuvers including rendezvous and docking.

Gemini was originally seen as a simple extrapolation of the Mercury program, and thus early on was called Mercury Mark II. The actual program had little in common with Mercury and was superior to even Apollo in some ways. This was mainly a result of its late start date, which allowed it to benefit from much that had been learned during the early stages of the Apollo project (which, despite its later launch dates, was actually begun before Gemini).

Soyuz programme (USSR/Russia, 1967–ongoing)

Soyuz rocket on launch pad.

The Soyuz programme (Russian: Союз, pronounced [sɐˈjus], meaning "Union") is a human spaceflight programme that was initiated by the Soviet Union in the early 1913when?. It was originally part of a Moon landing programme intended to put a Soviet cosmonaut on the Moon. All experimental or unsuccessful starts received the status of satellites of a series Kosmos, and flights of the Lunar orbital ships round the Moon - the name Zond. Both the Soyuz spacecraft and the Soyuz rocket are part of this programme, which is now the responsibility of the Russian Federal Space Agency.

The basic Soyuz spacecraft design was the basis for many projects, many of which never came to light. Its earliest form was intended to travel to the moon without employing a huge booster like the Saturn V or the Soviet N-1 by repeatedly docking with upper stages that had been put in orbit using the same rocket as the Soyuz. This and the initial civilian designs were done under the Soviet Chief Designer Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, who did not live to see the craft take flight. Several military derivatives actually took precedence in the Soviet design process, though they never came to pass.

The launch vehicles used in the Soyuz expendable launch system are manufactured at the Progress State Research and Production Rocket Space Center (TsSKB-Progress) in Samara, Russia. As well as being used in the Soyuz programme as the launcher for the manned Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz launch vehicles are now also used to launch unmanned Progress supply spacecraft to the International Space Station and commercial launches marketed and operated by TsSKB-Progress and the Starsem company. There were 11 Soyuz launches in 2001 and 9 in 2002. Currently Soyuz vehicles are launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwest Russia. Starting in 2009 Soyuz launch vehicles will also be launched from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana.6

TKS (USSR, 1965-1991)

Main article: TKS spacecraft

Soviet programme of Transportnij korablj snabzhenyja (English = The transport ship of supply). The first simplified analogue TKS started 1976 with 2 returned devices. The first fully completed flight ТКS for test of design and systems took place in 1977. The last flight was in 1983. The carrier rocket was Proton. Officially, the ships were considered as Kosmos satellites. Kosmos-1267 docked with Salyut-6, but Kosmos-1443 docked with Salyut-7.

Space Shuttle (USA, 1972-2011)

Space Shuttle Discovery launches at the start of STS-120

NASA's Space Shuttle, officially called "Space Transportation System" (STS), is the United States government's most recent manned launch vehicle and is retired from service as of 2011. The winged Space Shuttle orbiter is launched vertically, usually carrying five to seven astronauts (although eight have been carried) and up to 50,000 lb (22 700 kg) of payload into low earth orbit. When its mission is complete, the shuttle can independently move itself out of orbit (by means of making a 180-degree turn and firing its main engines, thus slowing it down) and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. During descent and landing, the orbiter acts as a glider and makes a completely unpowered landing.

The shuttle is the only winged manned spacecraft to achieve orbit and land, and the only reusable space vehicle that has ever made multiple flights into orbit. Its missions involve carrying large payloads to various orbits (including segments to be added to the International Space Station), providing crew rotation for the International Space Station, and performing service missions. The orbiter can also recover satellites and other payloads from orbit and return them to Earth, but its use in this capacity is rare. However, the shuttle has previously been used to return large payloads from the ISS to Earth, as the Russian Soyuz spacecraft has limited capacity for return payloads. Each vehicle was designed with a projected lifespan of 100 launches, or 10 years' operational life.

Shenzhou programme (China, 1992-ongoing)

The Shenzhou program (Chinese: 神舟; pinyin: Shén Zhōu) is a manned spaceflight initiative by the People's Republic of China. The program put the first Chinese citizen into orbit on 15 October 2003.

Development began in 1992, under the name of Project 921-1. The Chinese National Manned Space Program was given the designation Project 921 with Project 921-1 as its first significant goal. The plan called for a manned launch in October 1999, prior to the new millennium. The first four unmanned test flights happened in 1999, 2001 and 2002. These were followed with three manned launches in 2003, 2005, and 2008. Unmanned and manned launches to test docking occurred in 2011 and 2012 respectively. It is launched on the Long March 2F from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The command center of the mission is the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center.

The name is variously translated as "Divine Craft", "Divine Vessel" or similar, but is also a reference to a literary name for China with the same pronunciation (神州; literally "Divine Land").

Tier One (USA (privately funded), 2001-2004)

Tier One is Scaled Composites' program of suborbital human spaceflight using the reusable spacecraft SpaceShipOne and its launcher White Knight. The craft are designed by Burt Rutan, and the project is funded 20 million US Dollars by Paul Allen. In 2004 it made the first privately funded human spaceflight and won the 10 million US Dollars Ansari X Prize for the first non-governmental reusable manned spacecraft.

The objective of the project is to develop technology for low-cost routine access to space. Tier One is not itself intended to carry paying passengers, but it is envisioned that there will be commercial spinoffs, initially in space tourism. The company Mojave Aerospace Ventures was formed to manage commercial exploitation of the technology. A deal with Virgin Galactic could see routine space tourism, using a spacecraft based on Tier One technology.

Space station programs

(dates refer to periods when stations were inhabited by crews)

Salyut stations (USSR, 1971-1986)

  • Salyut 1/DOS-1 (1971, 1 crew and 1 failed docking)
  • DOS-2-1 (1972, failed during launch)
  • Cosmos 557/DOS-3 (1973, failed shortly after launch)
  • Salyut 4/DOS-4 (1975–1976, 2 crews)
  • Salyut 6/DOS-5 (1977–1981, 16 crews (5 long duration, 11 short duration) and 1 failed docking)
  • Salyut 7/DOS-6 (1982–1986, 10 crews (6 long duration, 4 short duration) and 1 failed docking)

Almaz stations (USSR, 1973-1977)

  • Salyut 2/Almaz/OPS-1 (1973, failed shortly after launch)
  • Salyut 3/Almaz/OPS-2 (1974, 1 crew and 1 failed docking)
  • Salyut 5/Almaz/OPS-3 (1976–1977, 2 crews and 1 failed docking)

Skylab (USA, 1973-1974)

3 Crews

Mir (USSR/Russia, 1986-2000)

28 long duration crews

International Space Station (USA, Russia, Japan, Europe, Canada, 2000-ongoing)

41 long duration crews as of 2015

Tiangong 1 (China, 2012-2013)

Spacelab and docking testbed. Visited by 2 crews. Still in orbit in 2015, but no future missions planned.

Chinese space station (planned)

Encompassing Tiangong prototypes and a heavy orbital station in the 2020s.

OPSEK (Russia, planned, would reuse parts of ISS)

Factory supporting deep space exploration. Assembly of interplanetary spacecraft, rehabilitation of crew returning to Earth orbit.

Commercial space stations (planned)

Space programs currently in development

Project Constellation (USA, 2004-2010)

Project Constellation, NASA's intended successor to the Space Shuttle, is a program to develop new crafts and respective delivery systems for increased operation in space. It is primarily intended to facilitate missions for International Space Station resupply, lunar landing, etc.

As of 2010, the future of the Constellation program has been called into question—indeed its possible cancellation as of the 2011 fiscal year.910111213

Orion and SLS (2009-Ongoing)

Project Constellation survives as a continuation of its parts. The Orion capsule has been rebadged as the MPCV for deep space missions, and the Ares V launcher has been cancelled in favour of the Space Launch System.

COTS (US privately, but state funded, 2008-ongoing)

Although this contract is for developing unmanned ISS supply vehicles only, the SpaceX Dragon is also being designed for future human spaceflight needs.

CCDev (US privately, but state funded, 2009-ongoing)

This economic stimulus program funds technology development related to human spaceflight by private companies. Recipients include Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SpaceX.

Prospective Piloted Transport System (Rus) (Russia, 2008-ongoing)

New multi-task Russian spacecraft for LEO, ISS and lunar missions.

Crew Space Transportation System (ESA, 2006-ongoing)

Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS) is a project of the European Space Agency with participation of Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos) with the objective to design a spacecraft for LEO operations such as servicing the International Space Station, but also capable of exploration of the Moon and beyond. Alternative European project ATV evolution exists but not adopted by ESA.

Indian human spaceflight program (India, 2007-ongoing)

The program aimed at developing manned spaceflight capabilities for India with plans to launch own astronaut by 2020.citation needed

Iranian manned space program (Iran, ?)

The program aimed at developing manned spaceflight capabilities for Iran with plans to launch own astronaut by 2021.

Japanese manned space program (Japan, ?)

The program aimed at developing manned spaceflight capabilities for Japan with plans to launch own astronaut by 2025.

Virgin Galactic (UK (privately funded), 2004-ongoing)

Virgin Galactic is a company within Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, which is developing spacecraft in conjunction with Scaled Composites to offer sub-orbital spaceflights and later orbital spaceflights to the paying public.

Golden Spike (US (privately funded), 2012-ongoing)=

Golden Spike is a private company currently offering manned lunar expeditions for two persons for US$1,500,000,000 beginning no earlier than 2020.14

Other commercial

Programs canceled before manned launch

Man In Space Soonest (USA, 1957–1958)

United States Air Force program to put an American in orbit. Canceled when NASA was formed in August 1958.

Dyna-Soar (USA, 1957–1963)

The X-20 Dyna-Soar ('Dynamic Soarer') was a United States Air Force program to develop a manned spaceplane that could be used for a variety of military missions, including reconnaissance, bombing, space rescue, satellite maintenance, and sabotage of enemy satellites. The program ran from 24 October 1957 – 10 December 1963, and was canceled just after spacecraft construction had begun.

Manned Orbital Development System (USA, 1962–1963)

The Manned Orbital Development System was a project by the Air Force Space System Division (SSD). It was to begin working on plans to use Gemini hardware as the first step in a new US Air Force man-in-space program called MODS (Manned Orbital Development System), a type of military space station that used Gemini spacecraft as ferry vehicles. MODS was effectively superseded when the Manned Orbital Laboratory was announced in December 1963.

Soviet Orbital Station 1 (Soviet Union 1962-1965)

Western nickname "Battlestar Khrushchev" a nuclear armed monolith station, about 5 times the volume of Salyut 1 and as heavy as Skylab. The station was designed for a crew of 6 and proceeded to mock-up stage before cancellation.

Manned Orbiting Laboratory (USA, 1963-1969)

The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) was part of the United States Air Force's manned spaceflight program, a successor to the canceled X-20 Dyna-Soar project. It was announced to the public on the same day that the Dyna-Soar program was canceled, 10 December 1963. the program was redirected in the mid-1960s and developed as a space station used for reconnaissance purposes. The space station used a spacecraft that was derived from NASA's Gemini program. The project was canceled on 10 June 1969 before there were any manned flights.

Spiral program (Soviet Union, 1965 - 1976 - end of 1970s)

Link about project

Buran program (Soviet Union, 1976-1993)

The Soviet reusable spacecraft program Buran began in 1976 at TsAGI as a response to the United States Space Shuttle program. It had only one orbital flight, an unmanned test, before cancellation.

Shuguang (Project 714) program (China, 1968-1972)

This was the first Chinese manned space program with plans to launch two astronauts by 1973.

Piloted FSW program (China, 1978-1980)

This was the second Chinese manned space programme based on the successful achievement of landing technology (third in the World after USSR and USA) by FSW satellites.

Zarya (Russia, 1986-1989)

MAKS (Russia, 1988-1991)

Kliper (Russia, 2004-2007)

Rockwell X-30 (NASP) (USA, 1986-1993)

Venturestar (USA, 1996-2001)

Hermes (ESA, 1987-1993)

Hopper (ESA, 2002?-ongoing?)

Sanger-2 (Germany, 1985)

HOTOL (UK, 1986-1988)

HOPE-X (Japan, 1980s-2003)

Fuji (Japan, 2001)

Kankoh-maru (Japan, 1995)

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ 30th Anniversary of Apollo 11, Manned Apollo Missions, NASA, 1999.
  3. ^ " | Aircraft Museum X-15"., 24 November 2008.
  4. ^ Jenkins, Dennis R. Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System: The First 100 Missions, 3rd edition. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press, 2001. ISBN 0-9633974-5-1.
  5. ^ "NASA astronaut wings award ceremony". NASA Press Release, 23 August 2005.
  6. ^ "The Spaceport’s new Soyuz launch site is ready for installation of its mission equipment". Arianespace. October 3, 2008. 
  7. ^ Bigelow Marketing Inflatable Space Stations, Aviation Week, 2010-05-06, accessed 2010-10-30.
  8. ^ In Race for Private Space Stations, It's U.S. Versus Russia,, 2010-11-12, accessed 2010-11-13.
  9. ^ "Obama aims to ax moon mission". Orlando Sentinel, January 27, 2010.
  10. ^ Santini, Jean-Louis (January 31, 2010). "Obama trims US space ambitions". AFP. Retrieved January 31, 2010. dead link
  11. ^ Amos, Jonathan (February 1, 2010). "Obama cancels Moon return project". BBC News. Retrieved March 7, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Terminations, Reductions, and Savings" (PDF). Retrieved March 7, 2010. dead link
  13. ^ Achenbach, Joel (February 1, 2010). "NASA budget for 2011 eliminates funds for manned lunar missions". Washington Post. Retrieved February 1, 2010. 
  14. ^ Kaufman, Rachel (2012-12-06). "Luna-Trips: Upstart Firm Plans to Sell Round-Trip Journeys to the Moon". Scientific American. Retrieved 2012-12-11.