This timeline looks at some of the historical aspects of rockets - taking science and technology to new heights.

1232 - Chinese fire arrows

The first true rocket is invented by the Chinese. Fire arrows are used against the Mongol invaders.

1591 - First multi-staged rocket

German fireworks maker Johann Schmidlap invents the two-stage rocket to reach higher altitudes. A large skyrocket (first stage) carries a smaller rocket (second stage).

1687 - Newton’s laws of motion published

Sir Isaac Newton publishes his book Principia, which contains his three laws of motion and lays the scientific foundations for modern rocketry.

1792 and 1799 - Rocket revival

Indian rockets used against the British catch the attention of Colonel William Congreve. Rockets are subsequently designed for military use by the British military.

1844 - Spin stabilisation invented

Jet vents are designed on an angle, making the rocket spin, much like a bullet, making them more stable and accurate.

1898 - Space exploration proposed

Russian schoolteacher Konstantin Tsiokovsky puts forward the idea of using rockets for space exploration. He suggests liquid propellants would gain greater range.

16 March 1926 - Successful liquid-propellant rocket

American Robert H Goddard flies a rocket powered by liquid oxygen and gasoline. Goddard goes on to build bigger rockets and higher rockets.

1942 - V-2 rockets

Ballistic missiles are developed by German engineers led by Wernher Von Braun during the Second World War. They burn a mixture of oxygen and alcohol at a rate of 1 ton every 7 seconds. This is the first rocket capable of reaching space.

1946 - First atmospheric testing

With the help of captured German rocket engineers, the United States begins using V-2 rockets as sounding rockets to make measurements of the atmosphere at high altitudes. Little was known of the atmosphere before this.

1950s - Intercontinental ballistic missiles

A variety of medium and long-range missiles are developed and become the starting point of the US space programme. Missiles like Redstone, Atlas and Titan would eventually launch astronauts into space.

4 October 1957 - First satellite – Sputnik 1

The Soviet Union launches the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite. This marks the first significant success of the space race between the world’s two superpowers.

January 1958 - First American satellite launches

Jet Propulsion Laboratories launch Explorer 1, America’s first satellite. New Zealander Sir William Pickering is director of JPL.

October 1958 - NASA founded

The United States formally organises its space programme and calls it National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

January 1959 - Russian Luna 1 probe to Moon

Successful launch of Luna 1 by the Russians, which sees the rocket fly past the moon.

February 1959 - First weather satellite launched

The Vanguard 2 satellite is used by scientists to forecast the weather.

April 1961 - First man to orbit Earth

Russian Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to orbit Earth.

February 1962 - First American to orbit Earth

John Glenn orbits earth in a capsule packed with so much equipment there is sitting room only.

July 1962 - Mariner probes to Venus

The first successful interplanetary probes are launched. Two Mariner probes travel to Venus.

1961 to 1966 - Ranger series

Series of nine probes sent to the Moon to take photos of the lunar surface in preparation for a Moon landing.

1969 - Moon landing

Apollo 11 is the first space flight to land people on the Moon. Neil Armstrong is the first astronaut to set foot on the Moon. 12 astronauts walk on the Moon during 6 missions. Ed Cernan is the last man to step foot on the Moon in 1972.

April 1981 - First Space Shuttle launch

NASA launches its first Space Shuttle. These are designed as reusable vehicles that would increase accessibility to orbit. Space Shuttles have been used to place many satellites into orbit and to construct the International Space Station. The final space shuttle was launched in July 2011.

10 Dec 2010 - First private launch into Earth orbit

SpaceX, a private company working towards commercial space travel, launches Falcon 9. This unmanned capsule orbits the Earth twice before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

5 August 2011 - Juno launches to Jupiter

Juno is launched to begin its 5-year journey to Jupiter.

Beyond 2000 - On-going space exploration

Countries and organisations continue to send probes and make plans to send people to the Moon, Mars and beyond. These include Japan, the European Space Agency, India, China, Russia and the USA.

2012 onwards - Private companies

Private companies, such as Space X, Orbital ATK, Virgin Galactic and New Zealand company Rocket Lab, are increasingly active in the space industry.

25 May 2017 - World's first private orbital launch site in NZ

Rocket Lab launchs their Electron rocket from their Mahia Peninsula based orbital launch site, in New Zealand. Rocket Lab is only the 3rd private company in the world to launch a rocket into space and their Mahia facility is the world's first private orbital launch site.

    Published 30 November 2011, Updated 27 August 2017