Timeline of Space Travel

1950's - U.S.S.R.: First to Space

In the late '50s, the U.S.S.R. stepped into the space age with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first, artificial Earth satellite. A month later, the Soviets sent the first living being into space: a twelve-pound, mixed-breed dog named Laika. By the end of the decade, two unmanned probes, Luna 2 and Luna 3, had orbited the Moon.

1960's - Early Space Race

By 1960, the United States had its own space program, sending the weather observation satellite Tiros 1 into orbit. While the U.S. continued to focus on unmanned missions, the U.S.S.R. had greater ambitions and, on April 12, 1961, riding aboard Vostok 1, twenty-seven-year-old cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth.

By 1966, the Soviet goal was clear: with the soft-landing of the unmanned Luna 9 craft, a manned landing on the Moon was their ultimate mission. Scrambling to leapfrog Soviet advancements, the U.S. threw their efforts into the Apollo program. With the 1968 Apollo 8 launch, N.A.S.A. proved that Americans could reach the Moon, sending astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders into lunar orbit. Less than a year later, on July 21, 1969, at 2:56 am, Neil Armstrong left the Apollo 11 landing module and became the first human to set foot on the Moon.

1970 and 1971 - The Race For Mars Begins

With a final, unmanned lunar mission in 1970, the U.S.S.R. abandoned its pursuit of the Moon. The Soviets shifted focused on other planets in the Sol system, landing a probe on Venus in December 1970, then establishing the first space station, Salyut 1, in mid-1971. Realizing the Soviets' next step would be Mars, the U.S. beat the U.S.S.R. by one month, putting Mariner 9 in orbit above the red planet.

1972 - Permanent Moonbase

To continue funding of N.A.S.A, U.S. President Richard Nixon authorized a permanent base on the Moon. The Apollo XVII mission established a research station on the lunar surface, with the colonization of Mars as the ultimate goal.

1973 - 1979 - Atomic Era Advances into Space

As the U.S.S.R. expanded the Salyut space station in 1973, N.A.S.A. began the construction of Skylab. By the end of 1974, both space stations were fully operational and the orbital construction of nuclear-powered transit ferries began. By 1979, the American Space Transportation System made travel between the Earth and the Moon as routine as a trans-Atlantic flight. The Soviet Buran program was also operational, testing and preparing for a mission to Mars.

1981 - Faster-than-light travel

First discovered by Kip Thorne and his team at CalTech in 1980, faster-than-light (FTL) travel was achieved almost simultaneously by researchers in California and Moscow. By 1981 researchers had harnessed the Casimir effect to produce the negative energy field required to generate and stabilize an Einstein-Rosen bridge wormhole. FTL drives became universally known as a Thorne Drive.

Under U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the Americans shelved their ambitions for Mars, shifting focus on nuclear arms buildup. This strategic decision was met with widespread disapproval, however, it forced the Soviets to keep pace with the American arsenal, destabilizing the Soviet economy, and ultimately bringing down the totalitarian regime and ending the Cold War.

1982 - Colonization of Mars

The first Martian colony, Utopia, was administered directly by the Kremlin. While the small mining facility supplied U.S.S.R. projects around Mars, rumors swirled that the domes housed research labs working on highly classified military projects.

1984 - Extrasolar colonies

In 1984, the first Soviet and American colonization ships departed the Earth's solar system. In a race to stake out territory, and with the limited technology for exoplanet detection, these ships were haphazard in settling new worlds. Dozens of colony ships were sent out over the following decade, including the Rissian Vakulinchuk, which would colonize a small moon in the Algea system, soon named Eisa (romanized as "Aisa"). Other early extrasolar colonies included Tei Tenga, Rax, Arcturus Prime, and Miraline.

1992 - Paradigm Shift

Following the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin opened former Soviet space colonies for international purchase. Desperate for cash to boost the crippled Russian economy, the Martian mines were sold to investors from the U.S.A., Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. Soon, industrial, then civilian settlements took hold on the red planet. While Russia would recant these policies and distance itself from Western influence following the election of Vladimir Putin, many Russian assets were shed at low prices. Others, such as the colonies on the moon of Eisa, were abandoned outright.

2005 - Cold Fusion

Cold fusion propulsion was achieved by Rusi Taleyarkhan et al, using their sonofusion method and mechanical intervention in early 2005. Taleyarkhan first discovered the process when he worked for Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2002 but was met with intense skepticism. For the next few years, he continued his research at Purdue University, where his team was finally able to apply it to propulsion systems.

With fusion fuel becoming available to private industry, companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin quickly developed new reaction drives. This rapid development helped privatize the construction of transport ships and their Thorne Drive systems, opening interstellar trade and distant worlds that had previously been the domain of national governments.