We’re planning to go to Mars: Here’s how it all started

Our road to Mars begins with the test launch of Orion. NASA

TORONTO – Orion’s test launch on Dec. 4 ushers in a new era of space exploration. This is the vehicle that will carry four people to into deep space — to an asteroid in the 2020s and Mars, the following decade.

Here are just some of the milestones that brought us here.

READ MORE: 5 reasons to get excited about NASA’s Orion launch

Sputnik (1957)

The leap into space started with the Soviet Union.

Sputnik, seen here, was the first object ever sent into space. OFF/AFP/Getty Images

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviets caught the world off guard when it launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite. It was tiny, measuring just 58 cm in diameter.

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On Jan. 31, 1958, the United States launched Explorer 1. The space race had begun.

Laika (1957)

Poor little Laika.

Laika wasn’t the first dog launched by the Soviets in space, but because she launched shortly after Sputnik 1, she remains the most memorable.

The stray dog was taken from the streets, quickly trained, and then launched into space on Sputnik 2, on Nov. 3, 1957. She perished after only a few hours.

Laika. OFF/AFP/Getty Images

Yuri Gagarin (1961)

Another shock to Americans was the first human in space; once again, a Soviet accomplishment.

Gagarin made a 108-minute sub-orbital flight (meaning that he wasn’t in a position to continually orbit the Earth) on April 12, 1961.

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Yuri Gagarin, seen here, on April 12, 1961, before he launched into space. AFP/Getty Images

 Mercury program  (1961-1963)

The Mercury 7 astronauts were the first American astronauts. The program actually started in 1959, but the first American in space — Alan Shepard — didn’t launch until May 5, 1961.

Of the seven, just one — Deke Slayton — was grounded due to a medical condition. The rest either flew in suborbital or orbital flights.

NASA introduced the Project Mercury Astronauts to the world on April 9, 1959, only six months after the agency was established. Known as the Mercury 7 or Original 7, they are: front row, left to right, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter; back row, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, and Gordon Cooper. NASA

The Apollo program (1963-1972)

In September 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy outlined a bold program to get Americans to the moon before the end of the decade.

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On July 20, 1969, that goal was reached as Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on another celestial body.

There were seven missions to the moon (Apollo 13 did not make it to the moon, but returned home safely). On Dec. 14, 1972, Gene Cernan became the last human to walk on the moon.

A camera mounted in the Lunar Module window photographs Neil Armstrong (left) and Buzz Aldrin (right) deploying the U.S. Flag on July 20, 1969. Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA

Skylab and Mir (1973-2001)

The U.S. put the first space station, Skylab, into orbit in 1973. It remained in orbit until 1979 when it burned up in the atmosphere (with parts of it landing in Australia).

In 1986, the Russians put their own station, Mir, into orbit. That station, though it endured some significant issues including a crash during a docking procedure, remained in orbit until 2001.

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The Russian space station Mir, which fell to Earth in 2001. Getty images/NASA

Space Shuttle years (1981-2011)

From 1981 to 2011, the space shuttle conducted scientific research, ferried satellites into space and eventually took humans to the International Space Station.

Though the program experienced some tragedies (with the loss of Challenger and Columbia) it was able to provide valuable insight into the challenges of living and working in space.

The final space shuttle mission blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 8, 2011. NASA

International Space Station (1998 to present)

The first part of the International Space Station launched in 1998, with the Russian module Zarya.  It took 10 years to complete the station, and couldn’t have been done without the Canadarm.

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The station is truly an international effort: along with the United States and Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 other countries (part of the European Space Agency) are partners and participating members.

The station is roughly 109 metres long, about the size of an American football field. As of November 2014, more than 200 people have visited or worked on the station from 14 different countries.

Chris Hadfield aboard the International Space Station, an orbiting science platform that has been in space 16 years. NASA

Follow us here at Global News for live, on-the-scene coverage of the Orion launch on Dec. 4.

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