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Spaceflight (or space flight) is flight into or through outer space and an application of astronautics. Spaceflight can occur with spacecraft with or without humans on board. Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union was the first human to conduct a spaceflight. Examples of human spaceflight include the U.S. Apollo Moon landing and Space Shuttle programs and the Russian Soyuz program, as well as the ongoing International Space Station. Examples of uncrewed spaceflight include space probes that leave Earth orbit, as well as satellites in orbit around Earth, such as communications satellites. These operate either by telerobotic control or are fully autonomous.
Spaceflight is used in space exploration, and also in commercial activities like space tourism and satellite telecommunications. Additional non-commercial uses of spaceflight include space observatories, reconnaissance satellites and other Earth observation satellites.
Spaceflight can be achieved with different types of launch systems, conventionally by rocket launching, which provide the initial thrust to overcome the force of gravity and propel a spacecraft from the surface of the Earth. Once in space, the motion of a spacecraft – both when unpropelled and when under propulsion – is covered by the area of study called astrodynamics. Some spacecraft remain in space indefinitely, some disintegrate during atmospheric reentry, and others reach a planetary or lunar surface for landing or impact.
The first theoretical proposal of space travel using rockets was published by Scottish astronomer and mathematician William Leitch, in an 1861 essay "A Journey Through Space". More well-known (though not widely outside Russia) is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's work, "Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами" (The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices), published in 1903.
Tsiolkovsky's rocketry work was not fully appreciated in his lifetime, but he influenced Sergey Korolev, who became the Soviet Union's chief rocket designer under Joseph Stalin, to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry nuclear weapons as a counter measure to United States bomber planes. Derivatives of Korolev's R-7 Semyorka missiles were used to launch the world's first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957, and later the first human to orbit the Earth, Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1, on April 12, 1961.
Spaceflight became an engineering possibility with the work of Robert H. Goddard's publication in 1919 of his paper A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. His application of the de Laval nozzle to liquid fuel rockets improved efficiency enough for interplanetary travel to become possible. He also proved in the laboratory that rockets would work in the vacuum of space;[specify] nonetheless, his work was not taken seriously by the public. His attempt to secure an Army contract for a rocket-propelled weapon in the first World War was defeated by the November 11, 1918 armistice with Germany. Working with private financial support, he was the first to launch a liquid-fueled rocket in 1926. Goddard's papers were highly influential internationally in his field.
In the course of World War II the first guided rockets, the V-2 were developed and employed as weapons by the Third Reich. At a test flight in June 1944 one such rocket reached space at an altitude of 189 kilometers (102 nautical miles), becoming the first object in human history to do so. At the end of World War II, most of the V-2 rocket team including its head Wernher von Braun surrendered to the United States, and were expatriated to work on American missiles at what became the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. This work on missiles such as Juno I and Atlas enabled launch of the first US satellite Explorer 1 on February 1, 1958, and the first American in orbit, John Glenn in Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. As director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, Von Braun oversaw development of a larger class of rocket called Saturn, which allowed the US to send the first two humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, to the Moon and back on Apollo 11 in July 1969. At the same time, the Soviet Union secretly tried but failed to develop the N1 rocket, meant to give them the capability to land humans on the Moon.
To be spacefaring is to be capable of and active in space travel or space transport, the operation of spacecraft or spaceplanes. It involves a knowledge of a variety of topics and development of specialised skills including: aeronautics; astronautics; programs to train astronauts; space weather and forecasting; ship-handling and small craft handling; operation of various equipment; spacecraft design and construction; atmospheric takeoff and reentry; orbital mechanics (a.k.a. astrodynamics); communications; engines and rockets; execution of evolutions such as towing, micro-gravity construction, and space docking; cargo handling equipment, dangerous cargoes and cargo storage; spacewalking; dealing with emergencies; survival at space and first aid; fire fighting; life support. The degree of knowledge needed within these areas is dependent upon the nature of the work and the type of vessel employed. "Spacefaring" is analogous to seafaring.
There has never been a crewed mission outside the Earth–Moon system. However, the United States, Russia, China, European Space Agency countries, and a few corporations and enterprises have plans in various stages to travel to Mars (see Human mission to Mars).
Spacefaring entities can be sovereign states, supranational entities, and private corporations. Spacefaring nations are those capable of independently building and launching craft into space. A growing number of private entities have become or are becoming space faring. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs started the first UN space program in 2016.