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NASA celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2018, while next year marks 50 years since the first manned mission landed on the Moon.

To commemorate those two milestones, Guinness World Records looks back on some of the space agency's key record achievements.

Gemini VIII

1966: First docking between two spacecraft

On 16 March 1966, the Gemini VIII capsule, piloted by David Scott and Neil Armstrong, successfully docked with an unmanned spacecraft called the Agena Target Vehicle. Both craft had travelled thousands of kilometers to meet in this tiny spot in space, 270 km (167 miles) above the Earth.

Before the two astronauts had any time to celebrate their achievement, however, one of the thrusters on the Gemini capsule malfunctioned, sending the spacecraft into a spin. Armstrong was able to recover control of the ship, but with most of their fuel gone, NASA decided to abort the rest of the mission and bring them home early.

Saturn V

1967: Largest rocket

The Saturn V rocket, built to take astronauts to the moon, was 110.6 metres (363 ft) tall and weighed as much as 2,965 tonnes (3,268 US tons) when fully fuelled. That's taller than Statue of Liberty and five times heavier than a modern Falcon 9 rocket. 

The Saturn V (which has been recreated in LEGO® for Guinness World Records 2019) made its first flight on 6 November 1967, carrying the unmanned Apollo 4 capsule, and went on to play a role in numerous record-breaking achievements.

Buzz Aldrin

1969: First men on the Moon

Neil Armstrong's first footstep on the Moon, taken on 21 July 1969, was the culmination of years of planning and hard work. 

Dozens of records had been broken in the process, including, just a short time earlier, the Least amount of fuel left on a moon landing. Armstrong and his crewmate Buzz Aldrin spent 21 hours on the moon, planting an American flag and setting up a number of science experiments.

Lunar Roving Vehicle

1972: Lunar speed record

With the Apollo program winding down, NASA was determined to get the most out of its last visit to the moon. 

Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt logged 22 hours of surface excursions over the course of their visit, covering an estimated 35.9 km (22.3 miles) in their Lunar Rover Vehicle (LRV). 

On their second-to-last day, while driving down a hill near the "Sherlock" block field, Schmitt and Cernan reported getting their LRV up to a record-breaking speed of 18 km/h (11.18 mph).

Largest room in space

1973: Largest room in space

At the time of its launch – atop the last operational Saturn V rocket – on 14 May 1973, Skylab was the largest space station yet built. Although it has since lost that title to the International Space Station, its core "Orbital Workshop" module remains the largest single room anyone has placed into orbit. 

The workshop was built inside a spare Saturn V third stage fuel tank and measured 14.7 m (48.1 ft) long and (6.6 m) 21.6 ft wide.

First successful Mars lander

1976: First successful Mars lander

Putting a spacecraft safely on the surface of Mars is really hard, even by rocket science standards. The first soft landing was made by the Soviet Union's Mars 3 lander in 1971, but an unknown technical fault knocked out the lander's transmissions after just 20 seconds. 

The first lander to successfully carry out its mission was NASA's Viking 1 lander, which landed on 20 July 1976 and beamed pictures and scientific data back from Mars for the next six years.

First reusable spacecraft

1981: First reusable spacecraft

The space shuttle Columbia made its maiden flight on 12 April 1981, with Apollo program veteran John Young and rookie astronaut Robert Crippen at the controls. 

It carried out a two-day test mission before deorbiting and gliding down for a conventional runway landing at Edwards Air Force Base. The orbiter was patched up and flew again later that year.

Most people in a single spacecraft

1985: Most people in a single spacecraft

The Space Shuttle was larger than any previous spacecraft and was capable of holding a huge crew. 

On 30 October 1985, Shuttle mission STS-61-A took off with a crew of eight, including six Americans as well as European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts from Germany and the Netherlands. This record for most people in a single spacecraft held until 1995, when 13 people came together on the Russian Space Station Mir

This number included the station crew, the crew of a docked shuttle and the crew of a docked Soyuz. This record was matched under similar circumstances on 17 July 2009 at the International Space Station.

Largest space telescope

1990: Largest space telescope

After years of delays and development problems, the Hubble Space Telescope finally launched on 24 April 1990 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery

Weighing in at 11.1 tonnes (24,490 lb) and measuring some 13 m (43 ft) long, the Hubble Space Telescope is the largest observatory ever put into space – a title it will continue to hold until the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in a few years time. 

Hubble went on to make many record-breaking discoveries, and is expected to remain in service for at least another 10 years.

First Mars rover

1997: First Mars rover

The Mars Pathfinder mission bounced to a halt (it landed in a parachute-dropped airbag) in a region of Mars called the Ares Vallis on 4 July 1997. The following day, after the lander had deployed its solar panels, it deployed a dog-sized rover called Sojourner

Designed for a mission of 7 “Sols” (Mars days) it went on to explore the planet for 83 Sols.

Most remote planetary landing

2005: Most remote planetary landing

On 14 January 2005, the NASA/ESA unmanned probe Cassini deployed a small lander, called Huygens onto Saturn's moon Titan, some 1.4 billion km (869 million miles) from the Sun. 

The tiny probe relayed pictures and data back to Cassini, which sent them on to Earth, showing a strange and alien landscape of methane seas and ice volcanoes. Cassini stayed in orbit around Saturn for a total of 13 years 76 days, conducting the longest orbital survey of an outer planet.

Largest Space Station

2011: Largest space station

Construction of the International Space Station began with the launch of the Russian Zarya module in November 1998. It was joined by the American Unity connecting module later that year. 

With the addition of the Leonardo multipurpose logistics module on 1 March 2011, the ISS grew to a total pressurized volume of 916 m^3 (32,333 cubic ft) powered by a solar array about the size of a football field.

Most applications for an astronaut selection process

2015: Most applications for an astronaut selection process

The recruitment process for Astronaut Group 22, which started in December 2015, saw NASA receive 18,300 applications from the public. This breaks the record of 8,000 set by 1978's Astronaut Group 8. These 18,300 applicants were whittled down by a rigorous selection process to just 12 people, whose names were announced on 8 June 2017. 

Once they've finished their training – which involves learning to fly supersonic jets, operate robots and speak Russian – they will fly missions to the ISS and possibly beyond as part of NASA's Orion program.

You can read about more of NASA's record-breaking exploits in Guinness World Records 2019, find out where you can buy your copy. US readers also have the chance to win a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

GWR 2019