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). In the United States, professional, military, and commercial astronauts who travel above an altitude of 80 kilometers (50 mi) are awarded astronaut wings. This article follows the FAI definition of spaceflight.

Until the 21st century, human spaceflight programs were sponsored exclusively by governments, through either the military or civilian space agencies. With the launch of the privately funded SpaceShipOne in 2004, a new category of human spaceflight programs – commercial human spaceflight – arrived.

Successful programs

Programs in this section are sorted by the years when the first successful crewed spaceflight took place.

Vostok program (USSR, 1956–1964)

Model of Vostok spacecraft with third stage of launcher

The Vostok program was a project that succeeded in putting a person into orbit for the first time. Sergei Korolev and Konstantin Feoktistov began, in June 1956, crewed spacecraft research.[1] The program 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 canceled and the components recycled into the Voskhod program, 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 metres (60 cu ft) 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 uncrewed 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.

North American X-15 (USA, 1954–1968)

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 crewed aircraft.[2]

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 km), thus qualifying the pilots for astronaut status; some pilots also qualified for NASA astronaut wings.[3][4]

Voskhod program (USSR, 1964–1965)

The Voskhod program (Russian: Восход, "ascent", "dawn") was a Soviet human spaceflight project. Voskhod development was both a follow-on to the Vostok program, recycling components left over from that program'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 program 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 program, beating the U.S. Gemini project to put the first multi-person crew in orbit was the objective that initially motivated the program. Once both goals were realized, the program 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 program.

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 crewed 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 program (USSR/Russia, 1967–ongoing)

Soyuz rocket on launch pad.

The Soyuz program (Russian: Союз, pronounced [sɐˈjus], meaning "Union") is a human spaceflight program that was initiated by the Soviet Union in early 1967. It was originally part of a Moon landing program 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 around the Moon – the name Zond. Both the Soyuz spacecraft and the Soyuz rocket are part of this program, 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 program as the launcher for the crewed Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz launch vehicles are now also used to launch robotic 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. Since 2009 Soyuz launch vehicles are also being launched from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana.[5]

Apollo Program (USA, 1961–1975)

Lunar Roving Vehicle used on Apollos 15–17

The Apollo Program was undertaken by NASA during the years 1961–1975 with the goal of conducting crewed 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.[6]

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.

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 crewed launch vehicle and was retired from service in 2011. The winged Space Shuttle orbiter was launched vertically, usually carrying five to seven astronauts (although eight have been carried) and up to 50,000 lb (23,000 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 Space Shuttle was the only winged crewed spacecraft to achieve orbit and land, and the only reusable space vehicle that 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 could also recover satellites and other payloads from orbit and return them to Earth, but its use in this capacity was rare. However, the Space Shuttle was 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)

Post S-7 Shenzhou spacecraft.png

The Shenzhou program (Chinese: 神舟; pinyin: Shén Zhōu) is a crewed 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 Space Program was given the designation Project 921 with Project 921-1 as its first significant goal. The plan called for a crewed launch in October 1999, prior to the new millennium. The first four robotic test flights happened in 1999, 2001 and 2002. These were followed with three crewed launches in 2003, 2005, and 2008. Robotic and crewed 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").

SpaceShipOne / SpaceShipTwo (USA, 2004–ongoing)

SpaceShipOne Flight 15P photo D Ramey Logan.jpg

Virgin Galactic is a company within Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, which is developing a privately funded spacecraft called SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo, in conjunction with Scaled Composites to offer sub-orbital spaceflights and later orbital spaceflights to the paying public. SpaceShipOne reached space with a pilot in three test flights in 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 crewed 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.

The model finally developed into SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic's second generation suborbital vehicle. On 10 October 2010, VSS Enterprise, the first SpaceShipTwo spaceplane, made its first crewed gliding test flight. By October 2014 SpaceShipTwo had conducted 54 test flights.[7] On October 31, 2014, SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise suffered an in-flight breakup during a powered flight test,[8][9] resulting in a crash killing one pilot and injuring the other. The second SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, made first flight tests in 2016.[10] VSS Unity made its first spaceflight (according to the U.S. definition of space) on December 13, 2018. Marking the end of the "shuttle gap." VSS Unity made its second spaceflight on February 22 2019.

Successful space station programs

(Dates refer to periods when stations were inhabited by crews.)

Salyut stations (USSR, 1971–1986)

The Salyut program was the first space station program undertaken by the Soviet Union, which consisted of a series of four crewed scientific research space stations and two crewed military reconnaissance space stations over a period of 15 years from 1971 to 1986. Two other Salyut launches failed. Salyut was, on the one hand, designed to carry out long-term research into the problems of living in space and a variety of astronomical, biological and Earth-resources experiments, and on the other hand this civilian program was used as a cover for the highly secretive military Almaz stations, which flew under the Salyut designation. Salyut 1, the first station in the program, became the world's first crewed space station. Salyut broke several spaceflight records, including several mission duration records, the first ever orbital handover of a space station from one crew to another, and various spacewalk records. The program went through various changes.