On 04th October 1957 the Russians launched the first artificial satellite into space. It was called Sputnik 1 and was successfully put into orbit around the Earth. This began what was to become known as The Space Race. The launch shocked the world. Most expected the Americans to be first but the Russians had worked on the project in secret.
Sputnik 2 was launched on 03rd November 1957, and it carried the first living passenger into orbit, a female dog named Laika. The Russians did not arrange for the return of Laika. She is believed to have survived for a week before dying.
was launched two years later, 15th May 1960. It was the first test-flight of the Vostok Spacecraft that would be used for the first spaceflight with a human. It did not go entirely smoothly. Some of the rocket actually landed on a street in a town called Manitowoc in the United States.
Sputnik 5 was launched on 21st August 1960 and contained two dogs, 40 mice, two rats and several plants. The spacecraft returned to the Earth on the next day and all of the animals were recovered safely.
The next set of missions were called Vostok and began the exploration of space by humans. Vostok 1 launched on the 12th April 1961. On board was a Cosmonaut called Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin orbited the Earth once in 108 minutes. He returned unharmed, ejecting from the Vostok capsule 7km above the ground and parachuting separately to the ground.
Vostok 2 carried cosmonaut Gherman Titov into orbit for a full day in order to study the effects of a longer period of weightlessness. Titov orbited the earth over 17 times.
Vostok 3 carried cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev into orbit for 4 days. He orbited the Earth 64 times. The Americans were not able to match this feat for a number of years.
Vostok 5 and Vostok 6 flew at the same time. Cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky was on board Vostok 5. He stayed in orbit for 5 days. This is still the record for time spent solo in orbit. Vostok 6 was famous because on-board was Valentina Tereskova, the first woman in space. She launched on 16th June 1963. She orbited the Earth 45 times. It was 20 years before the Americans put a woman in space.