Following are key dates in the history of space travel and exploration, 50 years after Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin became the first man in space:


October: USSR launches first satellite Sputnik 1.

November 3: Russian dog Laika becomes first live animal in space but dies aboard Sputnik 2.


October: American space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) created.


April: Gagarin becomes first man in space, completing a single, 108-minute orbit aboard Vostok 1.

May: US President John Kennedy launches the Apollo programme which foresees a man on the moon by the end of the decade. American Alan Shepard carries out a 15-minute space flight aboard Mercury.


February: American John Glenn completes the first three orbits of the Earth.

August: US launches a probe to Venus, USSR fires a probe to Mars in November.


June: First space flight by a woman, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.


March: Cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov undertakes first spacewalk during a 26-hour flight.


January: Launchpad blaze kills all three astronauts aboard Apollo 1. Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov killed when Soyuz 1 parachute fails in April.


July: US astronauts Neil Armstrong, then Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin (Apollo 11) become first men to set foot on the Moon.


April: USSR launches first orbital space station, Salyut 1.

June: Three cosmonauts on Soyuz 11 die during descent of their module.


May: European Space Agency created.

July: A US Apollo spacecraft docks with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft while in Earth orbit.


December: Europe becomes a space power with the launch of the Ariane rocket.


April: Maiden voyage of the US space shuttle Columbia, the first reusable manned spacecraft. It is followed later by Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour.


January: Challenger explodes on liftoff, killing all seven astronauts.


April: Launch of of the Hubble Space Telescope, a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency.


November: Start of the contruction of the International Space Station (ISS), which is inhabited in late 2000.


April: US millionaire Dennis Tito becomes the world's first space tourist.


February: Shuttle Columbia disintegrates over Texas upon reentry killing seven astronaunts.

October: China launches the Chang'e I satellite, the nation's first lunar orbiter. In September 2008 Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang aboard the Shenzhou VII successfully completes his country's first ever space walk.


September: British airline magnate Richard Branson announces a plan for the world's first commercial space flights.


October: India's first lunar mission blasts off from the national space centre on the southeastern coast.


February: Iran launches its first domestically manufactured satellite into orbit. A year later it sends animals into space.


February: US President Barack Obama scraps plans to return Americans to the moon and to conquer Mars.


February: Shuttle Discovery lands back on Earth after its final space flight before retirement. After the last journeys of Endeavour and Atlantis, the US will depend totally on Russia's Soyuz to go to space.