Orion and the History of NASA, in Pictures

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 at at 7:05 a.m. EST, Friday, Dec. 5.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 at at 7:05 a.m. EST, Friday, Dec. 5. NASA

A look back at the triumphs and tragedies of manned spaceflight.

The launch and successful splashdown of the Orion spacecraft marks a new era for NASA and its future planned missions. Here's a look back at the history of manned spaceflight in the United States. 

This snapshot, dated November 1957, shows Wernher von Braun in downtown Huntsville, Ala. Von Braun, considered one of the fathers of rocket science, first worked for Germany during World War II before moving to the United States.(NASA)

Bumper Wac liftoff at the Long Range Proving Ground located at Cape Canaveral. At White Sands, N.M., the German rocket team experimented with a two-stage rocket called Bumper Wac, which intended to provide data for upper atmospheric research. On Feb. 24, 1950, the Bumper, which employed a V-2 as the first stage with a Wac Corporal upper stage, reached a peak altitude of more than 240 miles.(NASA)

The Sputnik 1 satellite is shown here on a rigging truck in the assembly shop in the fall of 1957 as a technician puts finishing touches on it. When the development of the first advanced scientific satellite, Object D, proved to be more difficult than expected, the Soviets decided to launch a simpler, smaller satellite. PS-1, or Sputnik 1, began development in November 1956. On Oct. 4, 1957, Sputnik 1 successfully launched and entered Earth's orbit. Sputnik shocked the world, giving the USSR the distinction of putting the first man-made object into space and putting the U.S. a step behind in the space race.(NASA)

Test of a Vanguard launch vehicle for the U.S. International Geophysical Year program, which was to place a satellite in Earth's orbit to determine atmospheric density and conduct geodetic measurements. Only three of the 11 Vanguard rockets successfully launched satellites into orbit.(NASA)

The chimpanzee "Ham," the live test subject for a Mercury-Redstone 2 test flight, being fed an apple. This photo was taken after his successful recovery from the Atlantic.

Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.(Soviet Academy of Sciences)

Astronaut John Glenn as he enters the spacecraft Friendship 7 prior to MA-6 launch operations at Launch Complex 14. Astronaut Glenn is entering his spacecraft to begin the first manned Earth orbital mission. (NASA)

On June 3, 1965, Edward White II became the first American to step outside his spacecraft and let go, effectively setting himself adrift in the zero gravity of space. For 23 minutes White floated and maneuvered himself around the Gemini spacecraft while logging 6,500 miles during his orbital stroll. White was attached to the spacecraft by a 25-foot-long umbilical line and a 23-foot-long tether line, both wrapped in gold tape to form one cord. In his right hand White carries a Hand Held Self Maneuvering Unit, which is used to move about the weightless environment of space. The visor of his helmet is gold-plated to protect him from the unfiltered rays of the sun.(NASA)

NASA successfully completes its first rendezvous mission with two Gemini spacecraft—Gemini VII and Gemini VI—in December 1965. This photograph, taken by Gemini VII crew members Frank Lovell and Frank Borman, shows Gemini VI in orbit 160 miles above Earth. The main purpose of Gemini VI, crewed by astronauts Walter Schirra and Thomas Stafford, was the rendezvous. The main purpose of Gemini VII, on the other hand, was studying the effects of long-duration (up to 14 days) space flight on a two-man crew. The pair also carried out 20 experiments, including medical tests. Although the principal objectives of both missions differed, they were both carried out so that NASA could master the technical challenges of getting into and working in space.(NASA)

Closeup view of the interior of Apollo S/C 012 C/M, Pad 34 showing the effects of the intense heat of the flash fire that killed the crew of the A/S 204 Mission. Astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives in the accidental fire in January 1967.(NASA)

Astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee prior to the fatal fire.(NASA)

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, works at the Lunar Module LM. The U.S. flag and Solar-Wind Composition experiment are visible.(NASA)

This image of Earth rising was taken during lunar orbit by the Apollo 11 mission crew in July 1969. The first manned lunar mission, Apollo 11 launched aboard a Saturn V launch vehicle from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16 and safely returned to Earth on July 24. The three-man crew aboard the flight consisted of Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, Command Module pilot; and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Lunar Module pilot.(NASA)

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Lunar Module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, stands beside the deployed U.S. flag during Apollo 11's extravehicular activity on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are visible in the soil of the Moon.(NASA)

A perilous space flight comes to a smooth ending with the safe splashdown of the Apollo 13 Command Module in the South Pacific, only 4 miles from the prime recovery ship, the USS Iwo Jima. The Command Module "Odyssey," with Commander James Lovell, Command Module pilot John Swigert, and Lunar Module pilot Fred Haise splashed down just past noon on April 17, 1970. The crewmen were transported by helicopter from the immediate recovery area to the Iwo Jima.(NASA)

The crew members of the Apollo 13 mission, step aboard the USS Iwo Jima following splashdown and recovery operations in the South Pacific Ocean. Exiting the helicopter which made the pickup are (from left) astronauts Haise, Lovell, and Swigert.(NASA)

David Scott, Apollo 15 commander, is seated in the Lunar Roving Vehicle during the first lunar-surface extravehicular activity at the Hadley-Apennine moon landing site.(NASA)

On April 12, 1981, the first Space Shuttle mission was launched. STS-1 Commander John Young had already flown in space four times, including a walk on the moon in 1972. Bob Crippen, the pilot, was a Navy test pilot who would go on to command three future shuttle missions.(NASA)

Astronaut Sally Ride, mission specialist on STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck. Ride became the first American woman to fly in space on June 18, 1983.(NASA)

Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless is seen farther away from the confines and safety of his ship than any previous astronaut has ever been. This space first was made possible by the Manned Manuevering Unit, a nitrogen jet-propelled backpack. After a series of test maneuvers inside and above Space Shuttle Challenger's payload bay, McCandless went "free-flying" to a distance of 320 feet away from the orbiter. This orbital panorama view shows McCandless out among the black and blue of Earth and space.(NASA)

Space Shuttle Challenger breaks apart shortly after launch on Jan. 28, 1986.(NASA)

Astronaut F. Story Musgrave, anchored on the end of the Remote Manipulator System arm, prepares to be elevated to the top of the Hubble Space Telescope to install protective covers on the magnetometers. Astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, inside the payload bay, assisted Musgrave with final servicing tasks on the telescope, wrapping up five days of space walks.(NASA)

This image of the International Space Station was photographed by one of the crew members of the STS-105 mission from the shuttle Discovery after deparating from the ISS. The mission was the 11th ISS assembly flight and its goals were the rotation of the ISS Expedition Two crew with the Expedition Three crew, as well as delivery of supplies utilizing the Italian-built Multipurpose Logistics Module Leonardo.(NASA)

Space Shuttle Atlantis touches down at Kennedy Space Center, completing its 13-day mission to the ISS and the final flight of the space shuttle program on July 21, 2011, in Cape Canaveral. Overall, Atlantis spent 307 days in space and traveled nearly 126 million miles during its 33 flights. Atlantis, the fourth orbiter built, launched on its first mission on Oct. 3, 1985.(NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA's Orion spacecraft awaits the U.S. Navy's USS Anchorage for a ride home. Orion launched into space on a two-orbit, 4.5-test flight at 7:05 am EST on Dec. 5, and safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where a combined team from NASA, the Navy and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin retrieved it for return to shore on board the Anchorage. It is expected to be off loaded at Naval Base San Diego on Monday. (NASA)