Since Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union became the first human to go into space in 1961, more than 500 people have traveled into the great beyond. Some estimates, including those from the United States Air Force, put the total at 628.
Over the 61-year span, the human pathways into the so-called final frontier have been marked by triumph, milestones, discovery, wonder, and tragedy. And people continue to push the boundaries of human endeavor into space.
To determine the number of individuals who went into space every year since 1961, 24/7 Tempo, referred to data from Worldspaceflight.com, Spacefacts, Space.com, NASA, encyclopedic sources, and various media websites to compile this list. We tallied only those who had gone into space for the first time in a particular year for this list.
The first decade of space travel involved competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, as the two superpowers took their Cold War confrontation beyond the confines of Earth. The first space travelers from both countries were affiliated with the military. Gradually the two programs began including scientists and those from other fields in space travel.
The Soviet Union exploited its early advantage after the launch of the first satellite Sputnik in 1957 with some notable space firsts. Besides Gagarin’s initial space journey, other Soviet Union triumphs included the first woman in space in 1963, Valentina Tereshkova, and the first person to walk in space, Alexei Leonov, in 1965.
The U.S. was playing catch-up and there were tragedies along the way. A major setback occurred in 1967 when Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee died during a routine ground test of the capsule. It would not be the last disaster for the U.S. space program. (These are the most important events in NASA’s history.)
The Apollo program vaulted the United States into the technological lead, and on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. Though other nations have landed space probes on the lunar surface, only the U.S. has actually landed people there. (These are the 12 people who have walked on the moon.)
Competition gave way to cooperation between the United States and Soviet Union in the 1970s as the two former space adversaries carried out joint missions starting in July 1975.
Space travel became more or less routine in the 1980s with the start of the space-shuttle program and the launch of the international space station, which became truly international as other nations began providing space travelers for the ISS.
Dennis Zito became the first paying space tourist in 2001, and private companies, led by maverick mogul Elon Musk, are leaping into the realm.
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