Test Your Knowledge of the Space Age

By: Jaleel Tapper-Gray
Image: inhauscreative / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Once upon a time, human beings could only look up at the sky and think "I wonder what's out there?" But since the launch of our first satellite in 1957, we've done the seemingly impossible and boldly gone where no man has gone before. Now, by testing your knowledge of the early space era, you can retrace the steps of those brave space explorers. 

In this quiz you'll learn the incredible stories of science, war and a stray dog named Laika that have brought us within touching distance of the stars. No matter how important you think you are, a look at the universe always puts things into perspective. It's humbling to realize just how tiny we are! That is, of course, unless you get every answer right and your ego inflates to the size of Jupiter. Either way, there's plenty of daring, heroics and bravery ahead, so let's see if you can sort the Project Vostoks from the Project Vanguards.

It might be too late to pioneer the journey to the sky, but you can still take one giant leap into your Discovery shuttle and delve into the history of human space exploration. Fair warning though, some of it is rocket science!

What was the name of the first human satellite in space, which kick-started the space age?

Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviet Union in October 1957, making it the first ever human object in space. It nearly failed at launch when one of its booster engines didn't activate, but the satellite eventually exceeded expectations and continued to send radio signals for 22 days after launch.

Advancements in which energy source was most important for space exploration?

Nuclear energy comes from the heat released during radioactive decay. This decay happens over a long time period, which is great for powering spacecraft for years. The most common radioisotope used for space travel is Plutonium-238.

What is the name of the iconic photograph taken during the Apollo 8 mission, which pictures the Earth from the surface of the moon?

The Apollo 8 mission launched in December 1968, and was the very first Apollo mission to the moon. The astronauts, including William Anders who took the photograph, circled the moon on Christmas Eve. Rumor has it that Santa Claus sightings spiked that night.

Which renowned rocket scientist led his team to the creation of the Saturn V launch vehicle, which would form the basis of the Apollo missions to the moon?

In a controversial but groundbreaking career, von Braun first made his name designing V-2 ballistic missiles for the German army in WWII. Much later, he would become a consultant for Disney's animated 'Man and the Moon' television episode. Quite the resume!

You've probably heard of Neil Armstrong and 'Buzz' Aldrin, but who was the third man on the famous Apollo 11 flight, and the only member who did not set foot on the moon?

Collins piloted the command module around the moon, while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on its surface. Collins said: "I would be a liar or a fool if I said that I have the best of the three Apollo 11 seats, but I can say with truth and equanimity that I am perfectly satisfied with the one I have."

In what year did US President Eisenhower sign the National Aeronautics and Space Act, officially forming NASA?

After the Soviet Union's successful launch of Sputnik in 1957, Eisenhower was under great pressure to react. Many Americans feared that their rivals in the USSR had a technological lead over the USA, and so NASA was established to change that.

Gemini spacecraft were designed by the US to remain in Earth's orbit much longer than previously possible. But just how long would a typical voyage last?

Project Gemini ran from 1961 to 1966. Previously, manned flights would last no more than two days, but Gemini voyages would orbit the earth for nearly 14 days at a time. There were nine Gemini flights in total, the first of which was launched four years after the project's inception, in 1965.

What was the name given to the competition between the USA and the Soviet Union, as they both attempted to send humans to the moon?

The Soviet Union were the first country to send a human into space, but the USA were the first to successfully land on the moon (Neil Armstrong in 1969). Despite competing for over a decade and developing several versions of their spacecraft, the Soviet Union never achieved a lunar landing.

What term refers to the process of astronauts going outside of the spacecraft during a mission?

As space technology developed, astronauts were asked more and more often to leave the spacecraft. This was usually to relocate, install or repair parts. These newly trained astronauts were known as 'Spacewalkers,' which might be the coolest job title on (and off) the planet!

Believe it or not, NASA has only ever independently launched one space station, all the way back in 1973. What was it called?

The USA were never the front runners when it came to building space stations. Skylab itself was not a complete success, as it suffered damage upon its deployment. However, US shuttles have been integral in delivering crew and parts to other space stations, including the Soviet's Mir station.

Who was the first man in space?

Gagarin manned the Soviet Union's Vostok 1 on April 12th 1961. He was part of the much coveted 'Vanguard 6,' the original 6 astronauts selected to be part of the USSR's first attempts at sending humans into space.

Rocket technology advanced extremely quickly during the Second World War, most famously by a group of German scientists. Where was their laboratory based?

The Peenemünde Army Research Center was an important military facility for the German army in WWII. Led by Wernher von Braun, the team designed and built V-2 long-rang ballistic missiles. After the war, the Soviet Union captured the base and employed some of the scientists to help with their space exploration program.

What was the name of the first living creature sent to space?

Laika the dog ('barker' in Russian) was a stray husky-spitz mix, who was selected after rigorous testing by scientists to fly onboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. Laika's story is ultimately a sad one. She died shortly after launch, despite false reports from the Soviet's that she flew for several days.

Two months after the launch of Russia's first satellite, the US tried and failed to replicate the feat. What was the name of the project?

Project Vanguard, launched in December 1957, suffered a launch pad explosion and failed to get into orbit. Because it was so soon after the Soviet's successful 'Sputnik' satellite, Vanguard was mocked in the US media as 'flopnik,' 'stayputnik' and 'kaputnik.'

What was determined to be the principle cause of the Apollo 1 tragedy in 1967, which killed 3 astronauts?

The tragedy struck during a test run of the very first Apollo mission, killing Virgil 'Gus' Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee. The tragedy provoked a discussion over the ethical nature of the Apollo project, and manned flights were suspended for 20 months afterwards.

How long was the complex Soviet Space Station, Mir, in service?

By 1986, when the station was launched, the Soviet union was focussing its efforts on developing state-of-the-art space stations. The Mir station was extremely advanced for its time, with multiple modules and ports for spacecraft and cargo ships.

You probably know by now that the US lunar missions were named Apollo, but exactly who was Apollo in ancient times?

According to NASA: "Abe Silverstein, Director of Space Flight Development, proposed the name 'Apollo' because it was the name of a God in ancient Greek mythology with attractive connotations." Apollo was said to pull the sun across the sky every day in his chariot.

Which nation developed the extremely successful 'Soyuz' series of spacecraft, that are still in service today?

After the disappointing 'Voskhod' capsules, the Soviet's Soyuz crafts became the basis of their lunar aspirations. They were quite advanced, with three modules and a three-stage expendable rocket. However, due to budget cuts, the crafts never carried anyone to the surface of the moon.

What was NASA's annual budget when it was first formed?

In 1958, NASA took over from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and was given its existing budget of $100 million along with 8000 employees. By comparison, in the 2019 fiscal year, NASA's budget was around $21 billion.

Who starred in the 1995 film 'Apollo 13,' the famous dramatization of the heroic mission?

Apollo 13 became famous when an oxygen tank ruptured on its way back to Earth, and the crew barely made it home alive. Tom Hanks plays the role of Jim Lovell in the movie, one of the astronauts who took part in the mission. Hanks has since had an asteroid named after him: 12818 Tomhanks (1996 GU8).

This US space project had a lot of love for the letter F, with missions including Freedom 7, Friendship 7 and Faith 7. What was the project called?

The Mercury project was the competing project to the Soviet's 'Vostok'. It sent orbiting missions around the Earth. The final flight, Faith 7, completed an impressive 22 orbits of Earth over two days (May 15th and 16th 1963).

Who was the first woman in space?

Tereshkova was sent aboard the Soviet's Vostok 6 on June 13th 1963. After orbiting Earth 48 times, her craft landed in the Altay region of Russia, where she was helped out of her spacesuit by local villagers and invited to dinner.

Which US space shuttle helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990?

Discovery's robotic arm released the satellite into orbit on April 25 1990. There was actually a problem with the telescope's main mirror when it was deployed, which wasn't fixed until 3 years later in 1993.

When was the last time a human set foot on the moon?

The last Apollo flight was Apollo 17 in 1972, manned by Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt. Three more Apollo flights were scheduled (18, 19 and 20) but were cancelled due to budget cuts and public disinterest.

The rover 'Opportunity' landed on Mars in 2004. What was its main power source?

Affectionately named 'Oppy,' the Mars rover was able to run for an amazing 15 years, from 2004 to 2019. Although it was only designed to run for 92 days, careful operation from Earth (and help from Mars winds clearing dust from its solar panels), ensured it exceeded expectations 55 times over.

JAXA is the space agency of which country?

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, was formed in 2003. It contributed to the construction of the International Space Station, combining its Kibo laboratory module with the European Columbus Station and the Russian American Shuttle-Mir missions. Teamwork makes the dreamwork.

Which US president famously said "We choose to go to the moon"?

The line was part of an address at Rice University in September 1962, committing the US to the space race against the USSR. In the speech, Kennedy referred to space as a "new sea" and said the US would "help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war."

In 1986, the US Challenger Shuttle broke apart 73 seconds after its launch, killing all 7 crew members. Why did the craft fail?

On the morning of January 28, 1986, Florida temperatures were 20 degrees lower than any previous launch. The O-ring seals between the fuel segments had not been tested at that temperature, so when the flight took off, one of the seals opened and ruptured the liquid oxygen tank.

How long did it take the Curiosity Rover to reach Mars?

The Mars Curiosity rover was launched on November 26 2011, and landed on Mars August 6 2012. The rover was tasked with collecting evidence to show whether or not Mars could have ever supported life. Since then, it has been confirmed that the planet could have supported microbial life.

Which of these phenomena were only discovered thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope?

Scientists knew that the universe was expanding, but they thought this expansion was slowing down. With evidence from the Hubble Telescope, it turns out the expansion of the universe is actually speeding up! Since we don't yet know what's causing this acceleration, we just call it 'dark energy.'

Which of these everyday items can trace their origins back to NASA?

NASA developed CMOS sensors, which are basically tiny cameras, for use in their spacecraft. Today those sensors are used in your smartphone camera. Although tang, teflon and velcro have been linked to NASA at some point, they weren't actually invented by the organization, and definitely not for the purpose of space travel.

Which astronaut performed the first 'spacewalk'?

Manning Voskhod 2 in 1965, Leonov exited the spacecraft for 12 minutes. But when he tried to get back into the craft, he realized his spacesuit had expanded and he couldn't fit. After a lot of painstaking manoeuvring, and with dwindling oxygen levels, he eventually got back inside.

Launched in January 1958, how long did the United States' first satellite, Explorer 1, remain in the Earth's orbit?

Unlike Sputnik 1, which remained in orbit for 3 months, Explorer 1 was able to stand the test of time. However, it only continued to send signals to Earth up until May 1958. For the next twelve years it was nothing more than a hunk of metal in the sky.

What was the main purpose of the Kepler Space Telescope?

Kepler's mission was essentially to look for alien worlds. It monitored the dimming of far-away stars, trying to find planets that might be in the star's 'habitable zone'. Kepler was in orbit around our sun from March 2009 to November 2018 and detected 2343 planets.

What is the closest star to Earth other than the Sun?

Found in the Alpha Centauri star system, Proxima Centauri is an average of 4.22 light years from Earth. In 2016, astronomers discovered an orbiting planet in the system named Proxima B, which is in the habitable zone of the star and may have the potential to support life.

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