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Space Travel

You’re strapped into a seat. You hear a loud roar.

Rocket engines fire and lift you into the sky. The
rocket goes faster and faster, pushing you harder
and harder against your seat. Suddenly, everything
gets quiet. The engines stop. You take off your seat
belt and start to float around. You are almost
weightless. This is what space travel feels like.


Since ancient times, people have dreamed of leaving Earth
and exploring other worlds. But gravity holds everything
on the ground. Gravity is a pulling force between two
objects. Earth is a very large object, and its gravity is
strong. Even airplanes that fly thousands of feet above
Earth can’t leave our atmosphere and go into space.
Scientists and engineers had to make a force much
greater than gravity to travel to outer space.

Finally, the dream came true. Engineers built rockets

powerful enough to lift a rocket into space. In 1957,
scientists from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
(USSR) sent the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into
space. The United States soon sent an artificial satellite,
Explorer 1, into space as well. The Space Age had begun.

The first spacecraft just orbited (went around) Earth.

There were no humans on these spacecraft. Then
scientists sent robot spacecraft to the Moon. The
spaceships carried cameras that took pictures of the
Moon’s surface. Some robot spacecraft even landed on the
The first person went into space in 1961. Soviet
cosmonauts and American astronauts made several trips
into orbit around Earth. The next goal was to send people
to the Moon.


After the Space Age began, engineers worked hard to
figure out how to send people to the Moon. They made
controls for steering spacecraft. They made spacesuits to
allow astronauts to breathe and keep them safe from
heat, cold, and harmful rays.

Engineers made special rocket ships for taking astronauts

to the Moon. They named this series of spacecraft Apollo.
An Apollo spacecraft held three astronauts. It also carried
a smaller landing ship that looked sort of like a spider.


In July 1969, three astronauts in Apollo 11 headed for the
Moon. On July 20, they made history. Astronauts Neil
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin climbed into the landing
module, which was named Eagle. They went down to the
Moon. The spiderlike legs of the lander dug into the
Moon’s surface. Armstrong radioed back to Earth, “The
Eagle has landed.” When he stepped on the Moon,
Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant
leap for mankind.”

Astronauts in other Apollo spacecraft landed on the Moon

five more times. Astronauts in spacesuits walked around
on the Moon. They rode around in a kind of car called a
lunar rover. All the astronauts brought back moon rocks
and soil for scientists to study.


Astronauts haven’t yet visited another planet. Robot
spacecraft, also known as probes, have journeyed to all
the planets except Pluto. These space probes carried
cameras and took pictures of the planets. They studied
gases around the planets. They can send these pictures
and other information back to Earth by using special radio

Some of the space probes fly quickly past other planets.

Voyagers 1 and 2 took off in 1977 to fly by Jupiter,
Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. After zooming by these
planets, the Voyager probes headed out of the solar
system. They continued to explore the space between the

Some probes go into orbit around a planet. Some also

drop landers on these planets. Several Soviet probes
dropped landers on Venus. An American probe dropped a
lander on Jupiter. More probes and landers continue to be
sent, designed to explore other planets.

Of all the planets in the solar system, Mars is the most
similar to Earth. Beginning in the 1960s, many robot
spacecraft visited Mars. The Viking mission in 1975 was
the first probe to safely land on Mars. A camera sent
pictures of the surface to Earth. A robot arm scooped up

The Mars Pathfinder spacecraft landed on Mars in 1997. It

had a robot wagon called the Sojourner rover. The rover
moved around on Mars, taking pictures and studying
rocks. Other probes, landers, and rovers went on to study
Some people dream of astronauts someday landing on
Mars. Other people say it would be best to send more
robots. If astronauts do go to other planets, Mars would
be the first one they visit.


In the 1970s, the United States developed a new kind of
spacecraft called a shuttle. The shuttle blasts into space
on big rockets. Unlike previous spacecraft, which used
lander ships and could only be used once, the shuttle can
land on Earth like an airplane and be used again. The first
shuttle flew into space in 1981.

The shuttle has a big area called a cargo bay to hold large
equipment. Astronauts on space shuttles launch satellites
from the cargo bay. Some satellites study Earth from
space, while others relay phone calls and other
communications. Astronauts can also launch space
telescopes from the shuttle.

Space travel is hard on people’s bodies. Spending long
amounts of time in space makes bones and muscles weak.
It is hard to eat in space. It is hard to sleep and take

Scientists use space stations to study how people can live

and work in space. Space stations orbit around Earth. The
Soviets sent up several space stations. The first, Salyut 1,
was launched in 1971. The first U.S. space station, Skylab,
was launched in 1973.

The most famous Soviet space station was Mir, which

orbited Earth from 1986 to 2001. Astronauts from many
different countries visited Mir. Many of them performed
experiments on the space station. They learned many
things about living and working in space.

In the late 1990s many nations started working together

to build an International Space Station. The space shuttle
carried parts for the station into space. Astronauts put the
pieces together. The goal is to have people living and
working in the space station all the time. Someday, maybe
everyone who wants to will be able to travel into space.
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