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1958 Explorer 1, the first American satellite, encountered mysterious levels of radiation at 603 miles altitude, leading to the discovery of one of two radiation belts encircling Earth. Launched January 31, 1958 by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, the satellite was subsequently turned over to NASA.

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Preceding page: artist Alan Chinchar captures three decades of U.S. manned space flight

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1960
NASA began
flight tests of the
X-15 rocket-
powered
airplane.
Capable of flying
at 6.7 times the
speed of sound
at altitudes over
350,000 feet, the
X-15 helped
advance many
aeronautical and
space flight
systems. With the
aircraft in this
photo is pilot
Neil A.
Armstrong, who
later became the
first man to walk
on the moon.

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1961
Perched atop a Redstone booster is the Freedom 7 capsule that inaugurated U.S. manned space
flight just three weeks after the Soviets orbited the first cosmonaut. Alan B. Shepard's 15-minute
suborbital flight was viewed as a sign that the Russian space lead was narrowing.

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1961 This giant tracking antenna located near Madrid, Spain, is part of NASA's Deep Space Network, established in 1961 to maintain 24-hour radio contact with interplanetary spacecraft. Although the DSN's primary activity is telecommunications support for unmanned space exploration, the stations are also used as scientific radio telescopes for astronomy experiments and in NASA's search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

1961 The Saturn 1 rocket, successfully launched for the first time in October, 1961, and the similar Saturn 1B increased NASA's confidence in engines, boosters, and spacecraft, paving the way for the manned missions of the Apollo program.

1962 On February 20, 1962, astronaut John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth when his Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7 circled the planet three times in a five hour span. Project Mercury involved six one-man flights over two years; it provided a strong technological base for the greater manned space efforts to come.

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1964 The launch of Ranger 7 marked a turning point in NASA's troubleplagued Ranger program, which sought to obtain closeup pictures of the moon's surface in preparation for manned landings. After six previous failures, three Ranger spacecraft captured more than 17,000 views of potential landing sites.

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1965
Flights in the two-man Gemini spacecraft in 1965 and 1966 provided mastery of
technology and skills that were crucial to Apollo: maneuvering in space, rendezvous
and docking with another vehicle in orbit, extravehicular activity (see top photo), and
demonstrating that man could function effectively in space for as long as two weeks
with no lasting harmful effects. In addition, the Gemini missions obtained a wealth of
data about Earth's geography, environment, and resources.

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