The Most Extreme Human Spaceflight Records (Part 1)
A look at some of the records people have set during spaceflight.
First people in space
Gagarin was the first person to fly in space, and the first American followed only a few weeks later. Alan Shepard blasted off on Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961.
The first female in space was Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian cosmonaut, who flew in space in June 1963. There were several other female cosmonauts selected with her, but none of the others flew. The next woman in space, Svetlana Savitskaya, didn’t fly until 1982. The first American woman in space was Sally Ride, who reached space on June 18, 1983 as part of space shuttle mission STS-7.
For almost 20 years, the Americans and the Soviets were the only nations with astronauts. The first nation outside of those two countries to fly an astronaut was the former Czechoslovakia, which saw Vladimir Remek fly on the Soviet Soyuz 28 mission in 1978. Since then, dozens of nations from all over the world have seen their citizens fly in space on American, Soviet or Russian spacecraft.
Oldest person in space
U.S. Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, was 77 when he flew on space shuttle Discovery’s STS-95 mission in October 1998. The mission marked Glenn’s second spaceflight; he had become the first American to orbit the Earth back in February 1962.
So Glenn holds another record as well: the longest time between trips to space (36 years 8 months).
The oldest woman in space was Peggy Whitson, who was 57 years old during her last flight (Expeditions 50, 51 and 52 in 2016-2017).
Youngest person in space
Cosmonaut Gherman Titov was one month shy of his 26th birthday when he launched into orbit aboard the Soviet spacecraft Vostok 2 in August 1961. He was the second person to orbit the Earth, performing 17 loops around our planet during his 25-hour flight.
Titov was also the first person to sleep in space, and reportedly the first to suffer from “space sickness” (motion sickness in space).
Tereshkova was not only the first woman in space, but also the youngest – her record of 26 years still stands today.
Most consecutive days in space
Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov spent nearly 438 consecutive days aboard the Mir space station, from January 1994 to March 1995. He therefore holds the record for longest single human spaceflight — and perhaps set another one for wobbliest legs when he finally touched down.
The most consecutive days in space by an American is 340 days, which happened when Scott Kelly took part in a one-year mission to the International Space Station in 2015-16 (along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko).
The longest single flight by a woman took place in 2016-17, when American astronaut Peggy Whitson spent 288 days aboard the space station. NASA astronaut Christina Koch is scheduled to break that record when she returns from a 328-day mission to the space station in the spring of 2020.
Shortest spaceflight mission
Alan Shepard, on May 5, 1961, became the first American in space. Shepard’s suborbital flight in NASA’s Freedom 7 vehicle lasted just 15 minutes, carrying him to an altitude of 115 miles (185 km). He splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean just 302 miles (486 km) downrange of his Florida launch site.
Shepard would later get more than this tiny taste of space experience. In 1971, he went to the moon on NASA’s Apollo 14 mission. During that flight, the 47-year-old astronaut set another record, becoming the oldest person to walk the surface of another world.
The record for the greatest distance from Earth has stood for more than four decades. In April 1970, the crew of NASA’s Apollo 13 mission swung around the far side of the moon at an altitude of 158 miles (254 km), putting them 248,655 miles (400,171 km) away from Earth. It’s the farthest our species has ever been from our home planet.
Most total time spent in space
Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka holds this record, with a little more than 878 days accrued over five spaceflights. That’s almost two and a half years (2 years 4 months 3 weeks 5 days) spent zipping around the Earth at about 17,500 mph (28,164 kph).
For women, the record is held by NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who spent more than 665 days in space. That also happens to be the endurance record for any American astronaut.
Longest continuously inhabited spacecraft
This record belongs to the International Space Station, and it grows every day. The $100 billion orbiting lab has been continuously occupied since Nov. 2, 2000.
This span of time — plus two days, since the first station crew launched Oct. 31, 2000 — also marks the longest period of continuous human presence in space.
Longest space shuttle mission
The space shuttle Columbia launched on its STS-80 mission on Nov. 19, 1996. It was originally slated to return to Earth that Dec. 5, but bad weather pushed the landing back two days. When Columbia finally came home, it had spent nearly 17 days and 16 hours in space — a record for a shuttle mission.
Most time on the moon
In December 1972, Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission spent just under 75 hours — more than three days — poking around on the surface of the moon. They also performed three moonwalks that lasted a total of more than 22 hours.
Perhaps the astronauts lingered because they suspected humanity wouldn’t be back for a while — Apollo 17 marked the last time people traveled to the moon, or even went beyond low-Earth orbit.
Incidentally, the first moonwalk took place on July 20, 1969, during Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong stepped outside of the Eagle lunar module. He was shortly followed by his crewmate Buzz Aldrin. The moonwalk lasted a little over 2 hours, 31 minutes — about the same length of a typical Hollywood movie.
Fastest human spaceflight
The crew of NASA’s Apollo 10 moon mission reached a top speed of 24,791 mph (39,897 kph) relative to Earth as they rocketed back to our planet on May 26, 1969. That’s the fastest any human beings have ever traveled.
The Apollo 10 mission served as a dress rehearsal for NASA’s first moon landing two months later, on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 10 astronauts Cernan, John Young and Tom Stafford orbited the moon in their command module Charlie Brown and Lunar Module Snoopy. Later, Stafford and Cernan took the Snoopy lunar lander down to within 50,000 feet (15,243 meters) of the moon’s surface before returning to dock with the Charlie Brown module.
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