SPACE TRAVEL HAS NEVER BEEN BILLED AS A
first-class affair, but back in 1939 it was deemed downright uncivilized in the February 20, 1939, issue of TIME. The article summarized
the British Interplanetary Society's prediction of what astronauts would forgo on their flights to the moon. Topping the list: smoking and water for washingand there would be just enough coffee to keep the navigators from "falling asleep over their interminable calculations."
By 1951 space travel plans had become more grandiose. Famed rocket scientist Wernher von Braun predicted that a successful Mars mission could be accomplished with as few as 46 rockets in a round trip that would take three years. In a later interview with TIME, von Braun affirmed, "Man belongs wherever he wants to goand he'll do plenty well when he gets there."
With the Cold War heating up, the space race became an historic rivalry between United States and the Soviets. TIME heralded the first seven Mercury astronauts as men of destiny. Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin earned TIME's cover when he became the first human in space on April 12, 1961, but the article that described the event in heroic terms also lamented the U.S.S.R. triumph as an American propaganda defeat. Less than a year later when John Glenn's flight put America back in the space race, TIME lauded Friendship 7's success as a triumph for the entire free world.
In 1969 TIME covered the culmination of the Apollo program with a special package, "To the Moon," calling the upcoming flight "the most momentous journey since 1492." The next week's issue featured a cover story celebrating Neil Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind," asserting that the success of the mission was "a shining reaffirmation of the optimistic premise that whatever man imagines he can bring to pass."
It wasn't all good news. In 1967 the cockpit of Apollo 1 caught fire during training, killing three U.S. astronauts, Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. Later that year there was a deadly crash of Soyuz 1. Three more cosmonauts died in 1971 returning from Salyut 1, the first Soviet space station. And more recently there have been the two space shuttle disasters, Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003.
As the Soviet Union and its space program slowly deteriorated, so, too, did the space race. Competition morphed into cooperation as the U.S. joined with Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada to build an International Space Station. And there is continued debate about a manned mission to Mars. As TIME's Jeffrey Kruger recently wrote, "For the first time in a long time, cosmic planners were given reason to hope that after decades of drift, the U.S. is at last back in the space game."
But the U.S. is not alone. China has emerged as a new contender in the race for space, sparking new competition between the communist nation and its neighboring rival, Japan.
For the moment, the actionand the pride of NASAlie with successful unmanned missions like the Cassini-Huygens Saturn probe and the Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit.
Even more exciting for those who dream about flying into space themselves, private individuals have leaped into the space game. The successful flight of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, TIME's Invention of the Year for 2004, may be the first step for commercial space travel. With more than 7,000 hopeful astronauts on the waiting list for a suborbital flight, Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic has ordered five versions of SpaceShipOne and is aiming toward a 2007 liftoff. TIME continues to cover these achievements.