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According to this article, the german V-2 rocket from WW2 had a max altitude of 206 km when launched straight up. That's clearly above the 100 km requirement to be considered 'in space.' The V-2 was in service from 1944-1952.

Are there earlier examples than this?

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    $\begingroup$ Assuming that the Wikipedia article's claim is accurate, a maximum altitude of 206 km doesn't mean any ever reached that altitude in practice. The article also claims that on a long-range trajectory, the maximum altitude was 88 km; close, but no cigar, if your aim was to get into space. (Of course, that wasn't what the Germans were trying to do with the V-2.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 7 '13 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Yes but there are records indicating it did reach that height, or near enough, in practice. There's a diary by von Braun or one of his assistants that speaks of vertical test launches in June 1944. Sadly, the first time this was done was not given an exact date, so we don't know the day of the first space launch. But according to wikipedia and its source, one V-2 went 176 km on June 20 1944. See also astronautix.com/lvs/v2.htm for its V-2 chronology. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 May 11 '16 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ There's this story, "urban myth", around that a US nuclear test in the 1950s before Sputnik sent some shrapnel to space, but it doesn't seem to be substantiated. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Jun 16 '16 at 6:41
  • $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff oh the "manhole cover" story? Love it, but it's more likely that it was incinerated instantly. $\endgroup$ – Baldrickk Jun 5 '17 at 13:59
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No earlier examples are known. The first that could be argued to reach outer space was the fourth V-2 launch, on October 3, 1942. Its maximum altitude of 85-90 km or 97 km (depending on the source) meets the old NACA definition of outer space of about 50 miles (80 km). The US Air Force awarded astronaut wings to X-15 pilots who went above 50 miles in the 1960's.

However it does not meet the modern definition of outer space as starting at 100 km. You only have to wait a few years though for another V-2 to crack 100 km, no later than 1944.

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    $\begingroup$ Before the V-2, the record was held by the Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz, a long range artillery piece that could reach an altitude of 42 km. (far short of 'space', just mentioning it to give a baseline) $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Dec 7 '13 at 20:06

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