Humanity has racked up extraordinary feats of spaceflight since NASA’s first moon mission 50 years ago. Here are the greatest hits.

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  • December 21 marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 8 moon mission, which was the first crewed flight to the moon.
  • Humanity has since racked up an impressive list of firsts in human and robotic spaceflight.
  • Our spacecraft have visited every planet in the solar system, reached interstellar space, sampled comets and asteroids, enabled astronauts to live in orbit for two decades, and more.

The year 1968 is not exactly remembered as a great time in the US, let alone on Earth.

"There was the Vietnam War going on, it was not a popular war, especially with the younger people," Jim Lovell, a retired NASA astronaut, previously told Business Insider. "There were riots, there were two assassinations of prominent people during that period, and so things were looking kind of bad in this country."

But Lovell and his fellow crew members’ unprecedented mission to the moon — Apollo 8 — brought much of America and the world together.

They entered the history books as the first humans ever to leave Earth’s clutches, reach the moon, and orbit it. They were also the first to see and personally describe the humbling splendor of our planet from 240,000 miles away.

"When I put my thumb up to the window I could completely hide it," Lovell said. "Then I realized that behind my thumb that I’m hiding this Earth, and there are about 6 billion people that are all striving to live there."

Since that first lunar flight almost exactly 50 years ago, humanity has reached even farther and more ambitiously into space. 

Here are some of the most important feats of human and robotic spaceflight since Apollo 8.

SEE ALSO: 50 years have passed since NASA’s Apollo 8 mission circled the moon for the first time. Here is every Apollo mission explained.

DON’T MISS: 2019 will be an extraordinary year in space. Here’s what NASA, SpaceX, and the night sky have in store for planet Earth.

Apollo 8 astronauts launched on the first-ever crewed moon mission on December 21, 1968.

Lovell and his crewmates Frank Borman and Bill Anders became the first humans to orbit the moon on December 24, 1968. Their mission was to study the moon and photograph its surface for possible landing sites.

Apollo 8 is famous for the "Earthrise" photo that showed how small the planet looks in the void of space. Lovell previously told Business Insider that this view made him think, "you go to heaven when you’re born."

Apollo 11 put people on the lunar surface for the first time on July 20, 1969.

It was "a giant leap for mankind," Neil Armstrong famously said. Buzz Aldrin followed him onto the moon while their crew mate Michael Collins remained in orbit.

The astronauts returned home with a cache of rocks, dust, and stunning photos. After they landed, NASA put the three men in quarantine for 21 days to make sure they had not brought any lunar contagions back to Earth.

Venera 7 became the first robot to land on another planet (Venus) on December 15, 1970.

The Soviet spacecraft was designed to land on Venus, but its parachute ripped during the descent and Venera 7 slammed into the surface. However, the plucky robot still managed to send back data on the planet’s temperature, atmospheric pressure, and wind speed before its signal stopped.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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