First ‘Spacecraft’

StarDate logo
First ‘Spacecraft’

Since the dawn of the Space Age, in 1957, the United States and other countries have sent tens of thousands of objects into space — some into orbit, and others far beyond. Yet the first object known to have reached space did so well before the Space Age — 75 years ago today. It didn’t go into orbit, but it did reach 244 miles — well above the altitude needed to reach “outer space.”

The flight was conducted by the U.S. Army, at White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. At the end of World War II, the American military captured tons of parts from Germany’s V2 rockets. It also captured key German rocket experts, including the most prized of all, Wernher von Braun. He later led the development of the rockets that sent American astronauts to the Moon.

The military built its own versions of the V2, and started launching them in 1946. Early flights took the first pictures that showed Earth’s curvature, and carried fruit flies to study the effects of rocket flight.

On February 24th, 1949, the military launched a mission known as Bumper 5. It consisted of a V2 first stage, and a small second stage. It reached the highest altitude recorded up to that time, and the greatest speed — 5,150 miles per hour. And although its main goal was to study the rocket itself, it also studied the upper atmosphere and beyond — the first observations made from outer space.

Script by Damond Benningfield

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top