The Soviet Union amazed the world on Nov. 3, 1957, with the launch of the small satellite Sputnik 2. On board was a small dog, Laika, the first animal to actually orbit Earth. Unfortunately Laika was doomed to die during the event as there was no recovery capability at that time and the satellite burned up in the upper atmosphere in April 1958.
After Laika, the Soviet Union sent two more dogs, Belka and Strelka, into space in August, 1960. The animals were the first to actually orbit and return alive. There had been many previous experimental space flights carrying animals but none that managed to orbit Earth. Then, on the 12th of April 1961, the Soviet Union caused further incredulity when Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). The event was so successful and his popularity so great that Yuri Gagarin later embarked on a world tour where he was greeted by massive crowds in each visited country.
The Soviet Union and the United States had been involved in serious competition to be the first to launch a manned space craft and Gagarin’s flight was a great shock to the U.S. Three weeks later Alan Shepard became the first American to make a space flight, though his 15-minute adventure didn’t include an orbit of the Earth.
Alan Shepard became the fifth man to walk on the Moon when he commanded the Apollo 14 flight in February 1971. Great development has occurred since those times, including the establishment of the International Space Station which to date has been visited by more than 240 astronauts from 19 different countries. One country coming to the forefront of space travel at present is China, which in 2003 launched its first manned space flight – Shenzou 5, commanded by Yang Liwei. The spacecraft completed 14 Earth orbits.