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Human spaceflight

Edward White on a spacewalk during the Gemini 4 mission.

A human spaceflight is a spaceflight with a human crew, and possibly passengers. This makes it unlike robotic space probes or remotely-controlled satellites. Human spaceflight is sometimes called manned spaceflight, a term now deprecated by major space agencies in favor of its gender-neutral alternative.

As of 2009, human spaceflights are being actively launched by the Soyuz programme conducted by the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Space Shuttle program conducted by NASA, and the Shenzhou program conducted by the China National Space Administration.

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 space tourism companies.



First human spaceflights

Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, in his space suit during the Vostok 1 mission

The first human spaceflight was undertaken 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 scientists Sergey Korolyov and Kerim Kerimov.[1] 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.

Sergey Korolyov, one of the lead architects behind the Vostok 1 mission

The United States became the second nation (and for four decades, one of only two) 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 April 12, 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.

Kerim Kerimov, one of the lead architects behind the Vostok 1 mission
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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 furthest destination for a human spaceflight mission has been the Moon, and as of 2008 the only 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 became the first person to set foot on the Moon. Six missions landed in total, numbered Apollo 11–17, excluding Apollo 13. Altogether twelve men reached the Moon's surface, 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.[2]

The longest single human spaceflight is that of Valeriy Polyakov, who left earth on January 8, 1994, and didn't 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 lasted as long as 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. Later, cosmonauts and astronauts from other nations flew in space, beginning with the flight of Vladimir Remek, a Czech, on a Soviet spacecraft on March 2, 1978. As of 2007, citizens from 33 nations (including space tourists) have flown in space aboard Soviet, American, Russian, and Chinese spacecraft.

Space programs

As of 2009, human spaceflight missions have been conducted by the former Soviet Union/(Russia), 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), Malaysia (MNSA) and Turkey.

Countries which have human spaceflight agendas.

Currently the following spacecraft and spaceports are used for launching human spaceflights:

  • Soyuz with Soyuz rocket—Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • Space Shuttle—Kennedy Space Center
  • International Space Station (ISS)—Assembled in orbit; crews transported by the previous two 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—Kennedy Space Center
  • Voskhod—Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • X-15—Edwards Air Force Base,[3] (two internationally recognized suborbital flights in program)
  • Gemini—Kennedy Space Center
  • Apollo—Kennedy Space Center
  • Salyut space station—Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • Almaz space station—Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • Skylab space station—Kennedy Space Center
  • Mir space station—Baikonur Cosmodrome
  • SpaceShipOne with White Knight—Mojave Spaceport

Numerous private companies attempted human spaceflight programs in an effort to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize. The first private human spaceflight took place on June 21, 2004, when SpaceShipOne conducted a suborbital flight. SpaceShipOne captured the prize on October 4, 2004, when it accomplished two consecutive flights within one week.

Most of the time, the only humans in space are those aboard the ISS, whose crew of six spends up to six months at a time in low Earth orbit.

NASA and ESA now use the term "human spaceflight" to refer to their programs of launching people into space. Traditionally, these endeavors have been referred to as "manned space missions".

National spacefaring attempts

Successfully executed manned programs are in bold.
Suborbital spaceflights are in italics.
Nation/Organization Space agency National term First launched astronaut Date Spacecraft Launcher
 Soviet Union Soviet space program
(OKB-1 Design Bureau)
космонавт (Russian)
Yuri Gagarin April 12, 1961 Vostok 1 Vostok
 United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut Alan Shepard May 5, 1961 Mercury-Redstone 3 Redstone
 China China space program 宇航员 (Chinese)
航天员 (Chinese)
... 1973 (abandoned) Shuguang 1 Long March 2A
 China China space program 宇航员 (Chinese)
航天员 (Chinese)
... 1981 (abandoned)
January 7, 1979

Piloted FSW Long March 2
Flag of Europe ESA European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut
spationaute (French)
... 1999 (abandoned) Hermes Ariane V
 Iraq[4] ... رجل فضاء (Arabic)
rajul faḍāʼ
رائد فضاء (Arabic)
rāʼib faḍāʼ
ملاح فضائي (Arabic)
mallāḥ faḍāʼiy
... 2001 (abandoned) ... Tammouz 2 or 3
 Japan Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) 宇宙飛行士 (Japanese)
... 2003 (abandoned) HOPE-X H-II
 China China National Space Administration (CNSA) taikonaut
太空人 (Chinese)
tàikōng rén
宇航员 (Chinese)
航天员 (Chinese)
Yang Liwei October 15, 2003 Shenzhou 5 Long March 2F
 India Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) gaganaut
आकाशगामि:  (Sanskrit)
ब्रह्मान्डगामि:  (Sanskrit)
अन्तरिक्षयात्रि: (Sanskrit)
... 2015 (approved)[5] Orbital Vehicle (OV) GSLV Mk II
Flag of Europe ESA European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut
spationaute (French)
... 2020 (approved conceptually but full development not began)[6][7][8][9] ARV phase-2 (may be changed to CSTS) Ariane V
 Iran Iranian Space Agency (ISA) فضانورد (Persian)
faza navard
... 2021 (planned) ISA manned spacecraft ...
 Japan Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) 宇宙飛行士 (Japanese)
... 2025 (planned) HTV-based spacecraft H-IIB
 North Korea[10] Korean Committee of Space Technology (KCST) 우주비행사 (Korean)
... TBA (planned) ... ...
 Turkey Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) gökmen (Turkish) ... TBA (planned) ... ...
 Malaysia[11] Malaysian National Space Agency (MNSA) angkasawan (Malay) ... TBA (planned) ... ...
 Romania Romanian Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Association (ARCASPACE) astronaut
astronauţ (Romanian)
... TBA (approved) Stabilo-mission8 ARCASPACE air-balloon

Safety concerns

Planners of human spaceflight missions face a number of safety concerns.

Life support

The immediate needs for breathable air and drinkable water are addressed by the life support system of the spacecraft.

Medical issues

Effects of microgravity

Medical data from astronauts in low earth orbits for long periods, dating back to the 1970s, show several adverse effects of a microgravity environment: loss of bone density, decreased muscle strength and endurance, postural instability, and reductions in aerobic capacity. Over time these deconditioning effects can impair astronauts’ performance or increase their risk of injury.[12]

In a weightless environment, astronauts put almost no weight on the back muscles or leg muscles used for standing up. Those muscles then start to weaken and eventually get smaller. If there is an emergency at landing, the loss of muscles, and consequently the loss of strength can be a serious problem. Sometimes, astronauts can lose up to 25% of their muscle mass on long term flights. When they get back to ground, they will be considerably weakened and will be out of action for a while.

Astronauts experiencing weightlessness will often lose their orientation, get motion sickness, and lose their sense of direction as their bodies try to get used to a weightless environment. When they get back to Earth, or any other mass with gravity, they have to readjust to the gravity and may have problems standing up, focusing their gaze, walking and turning. Importantly, those body motor disturbances after changing from different gravities only get worse the longer the exposure to little gravity. These changes will affect operational activities including approach and landing, docking, remote manipulation, and emergencies that happen by landing. This is a big problem for mission success.


Without proper shielding the crews of missions beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) might be at risk from high-energy protons emitted by solar flares. Lawrence Townsend of the University of Tennessee and others have studied the most powerful solar flare ever recorded. That flare was seen by the British astronomer Richard Carrington in September 1859. Radiation doses astronauts would receive from a Carrington-type flare could cause acute radiation sickness and possibly even death.[13]

Another type of radiation, galactic cosmic rays, present further challenges to human spaceflight beyond LEO.[14]

Radiation damage to the immune system

Another factor is that extended space flight might slow down the body’s ability to protect itself against diseases. Some of the problems are a weakened immune system and the activation of dormant viruses in the body. Radiation can cause both short and long term consequences to the blood marrow stem cells which create the blood and immune systems. Because the interior of a spacecraft is so small, a weakened immune system and more active viruses in the body can lead to a fast spread of infection.


During long missions, astronauts have to go through the isolation and confinement of a space environment. People isolated for a long period of time can go into depression. This can negatively influence the mission’s success. Not only are astronauts subjected to near total isolation from the rest of the world, but they have very limited space to move around. These factors can lead to cabin fever and several other psychological problems.

When on long missions, astronauts will not be able to quickly return to Earth if a medical emergency occurs. For example, a scientist working in the south pole found a lump in her breast and had to wait two months before a helicopter could come in. In space, even that is not an option. When a medical emergency happens, the astronauts have to rely on the crew and the computers to solve the problem.

Launch safety

Reentry safety


Fatality risk

As of 2009, 18 crew members have died during actual spaceflight missions (see table). Over 100 others have died in accidents during activity directly related to spaceflight missions or testing.

Year # of


Mission Known or likely cause
1967 1 Soyuz 1 Trauma from Earth surface impact
1971 3 Soyuz 11 Asphyxia from cabin breech
1986 7 Space Shuttle Challenger Trauma from Earth surface impact

(mission never reached space)

2003 7 Space Shuttle Columbia Asphyxia from cabin breach or trauma from object impact


  1. ^ Peter Bond, Obituary: Lt-Gen Kerim Kerimov, The Independent, 7 April 2003.
  2. ^ Siddiqi, Asif. Challenge To Apollo The Soviet Union and The Space Race, 1945-1974. NASA. pp. 832. 
  3. ^ "X-15 Hypersonic Research Program". NASA. 
  4. ^ According to a press-release of Iraqi News Agency of December 5, 1989 about the first (and last) test of the Tammouz space launcher, Iraq intended to develop manned space facilities by the end of the century. These plans were put to an end by the Gulf War of 1991 and the economic hard times that followed.
  5. ^ Priyadarshi, Siddhanta (2009-02-23). "Planning Commission Okays ISRO Manned Space Flight Program". Indian Express. pp. 2. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "朝鲜宣布发展太空计划抗衡“西方强权”". 民族网. 2009-02-08. Retrieved February 26th 2009. 
  11. ^ in 2006 Malaysia proposed the joint space program of islamic world with development of independent manned space facilities
  12. ^ "Exploration Systems Human Research Program - Exercise Countermeasures". NASA. 
  13. ^ Stephen Battersby (21 March 2005). "Superflares could kill unprotected astronauts". 
  14. ^ "Space Radiation Hazards and the Vision for Space Exploration". NAP. 2006. 


  • Astronaut
  • Astronautical hygiene
  • Atmospheric reentry
  • Human adaptation to space
  • Human versus robotic spaceflight
  • Interplanetary travel
  • Monkeys in space
  • Space and survival
  • Space colonization
  • Space exploration
  • Space tourism
  • Spaceflight records
  • Spaceport
  • SpaceShipOne
  • Timeline of space travel by nationality
  • Timeline of first orbital launches by country
  • X-15 program
  • List of astronauts by name
  • List of human spaceflights
  • List of human spaceflight programs
  • List of manned spacecraft
  • List of space agencies
  • List of space disasters
  • List of spacewalks

External links

Useful Links