Ever since humans first saw birds soar through the sky, they have wanted to fly. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered flight a divine ability; many of the ancient gods were capable of flying. According to the legend of Daedalus and Icarus, the father and son escaped prison by attaching wings made of wax and feathers to their bodies.  Heeding little attention to his father's instructions, Icarus flew too near the sun.  The heat caused the wax to melt, spelling the ruin of Icarus.

About 100 BC the Greek inventor Hero of Alexandria designed a new invention that made use of the power generated by steam.  His design used a sphere mounted on top of a water kettle. A fire below the kettle turned the water into steam, and the gas traveled through pipes into the sphere. Two L-shaped tubes on opposite sides of the sphere allowed the gas to escape, and in doing so gave a rocket-like thrust to the sphere that caused it to rotate.

In 1232 AD the Chinese used rocket-like  "fire-arrows" against the Mongols in the battleof Kai-fung-fu. An arrow with a tube of gunpowder produced an arrow of flying fire.  It is recorded that when a rocket was lit, the roar could be heard for 15 miles.  Legend has it that when one of the rockets fell to earth, the impact would destroy the ground and the surrounding area of radius 1,000ft.

The Monguls then developed their own rockets and used them as they conquered Russia and much of Europe during the 1250's. Shortly thereafter, Arabs and Europeans started developing their own rockets. 

According to legend, man's first spaceship was made in China around 1500 A.D. by a Mandarin Wan Hu.  Wan Hu set about to build a spaceship that was to be propelled by 47 firecrackers. Two kites attached to a rope were added to help maintain balance.

Wan Hu's servants lit the firecrackers, and the craft took off in a blaze of fire. The legend neglects to tell us what became of the world's first astronaut, but we can only assume the worst.

In Britain, Sir William Congreve developed a rocket that could fire to about 9,000 feet. The British fired Congreve rockets against the United States in the War of 1812. It was this time that Francis Scott Key penned the nationalistic poem "The Star-Spangled Banner".

Experimenters in America, Europe and elsewhere, at the end of the 19th century, attempted to build postal rockets to deliver mail from one location to another. The idea was more novel than successful.  In many cases, however, the stamps used in these early postal rockets have become collector's items.

Tsiolkovsky, a Russian school teacher, proposed the idea of space exploration with the use of rockets.  In a paper he wrote in 1903, he suggested the use of liquid propellants for rockets so to achieve greater range. Tsiolkovsky stated that the speed and range of a rocket were limited by the speed of the escaping gases.

Two scientists, Wernher von Braun, of Germany, and Robert H. Goddard, of the US, experimented in liquid-propelled rockets. Goddard recorded the first liquid-propelled rocket flight on March 16, 1926. The rocket only flew 152 ft (46 meters), but it did fly!

Less interested in the scientific fundamentals of rocketry, many writers of popular literature and science fiction discovered one of the most vital elements in the formula for space travel, a fertile imagination. Under the impression that the sun "draws up" dewdrops, Cyrano de Bergerac suggested fancifully that one might fly by trapping dew in bottles, strapping the bottles to oneself, and standing in sunlight.  Jules Verne published his first science fiction novel in 1865 entitled From the Earth to the Moon.

Under the technical direction of Von Braun, the Germans developed the V-2 rocket (in Germany called the A-4). The V-2 became one of the best known of all early missiles. The 46-foot rocket utilized alcohol and liquid oxygen as fuel and could carry a 1,650 pound warhead 225 miles.

As the war ended, the United States developed an interest in the technical capability of the Germans. A team of American scientists was dispatched to Europe to collect information and equipment related to German rocket progress. "Project Paperclip" enabled the German rocket specialists to come to the United States to initiate advances in American rocketry.

The Russians launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satelite in space, on October 4, 1957. A year later, in the U.S., NASA was created.  Thus began rapid developments in rocket technology toward the goal of manned spaceflight.

October 4, 1957:
The Soviet Union launches Sputnik I, becoming the first nation to successfully launch an artificial satellite.

April 12, 1961:
Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space, inaugurating the era of manned space flights.

May 25, 1961: 
President John F. Kennedy commits the U.S. to landing an astronaut on the Moon before the end of the decade.

March 1965:
Project Gemini is launched. The mission plays an important role in preparing the space program for a trip to the Moon, including completing the first U.S. space walks, practicing docking maneuvers in space, and successfully completing longer space flights. The space flight of Gemini 12, the final mission, was completed in November 1966.

Saturn V, the largest rocket ever assembled, and the first rocket in its class designed for a non-weapon payload. It will deliver a payload of up to 44 tons to the Moon during the Apollo program.

December 24, 1968:
Apollo 8 circles the Moon on Christmas Eve, bringing the Apollo Moon program one step closer to its goal. Astronaut Frank Borman takes the opportunity to read a passage from the Bible to the people back on Earth, some 250,000 miles away.

July 20, 1969:
Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. of the Apollo 11 mission become the first men to walk on the Moon. "That's one small step for man; a giant leap for mankind."

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