As per the title, have any humans been launched into an orbit around the Earth which is anything other than prograde? E.g. retrograde or polar.

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    $\begingroup$ I would add to this the question "What's the highest inclination a human has ever orbited?" $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 20, 2019 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if Apollo passing over the far side of the Moon on the free return trajectory was speedy enough to be actually retrograde relative to Earth. Not Earth orbit, but still retrograde motion relative to Earth. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    May 20, 2019 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ In rough terms, the Moon orbits the Earth at about 1.0 km/second and lunar orbital velocity at the surface is about 1.7 km/second (no abbreviation for "second" b/c must defeat autocorrect). So retrograde motion might have occurred relative to Earth. $\endgroup$ May 21, 2019 at 0:22

2 Answers 2


The highest inclination human spaceflight I have found is Voskhod 2 at 64.8 degrees. Soyuz 22 and Voskhod 1 were close (64.75 and 64.7 degrees respectively). So none were ever retrograde.

(I thought the Soviet military Almaz stations had higher inclinations but it appears the manned ones were at 51.6 degrees. My searching of Russian space history is not optimum, so I easily might have missed something.)

Update: See also https://space.stackexchange.com/a/58208/6944 for a possible higher inclination that I missed (Vostok 6, 65.09 degrees) but sources vary on the value of the inclination. Still not retrograde.


Due to the safety concerns highest inclination achievable from Kennedy Space Center was around 57 degrees. However STS-36 was able to achieve 62 degrees because of “dog-leg” maneuver after SRB separation.

There was one space shuttle mission designated for Polar Orbit: STS-62A Discovery. Mission was cancelled because of Challenger disaster. It was prepared to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the USA's west coast which had possibility to launch at higher inclinations. Only Discovery and Atlantis was prepared to be launched from Vandenberg AFB. After the Challenger disaster there were no flights from VAFB.


ISS inclination is pretty high: 51.6 to be accessible from Bajkonur cosmodrome.


To answer question from comment about highest orbit: Apollo 13 while on Free Return Trajectory behind the Moon.

Quote: The Apollo 13 crew (Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert), while passing over the far side of the Moon at an altitude of 254 km (158 mi) from the lunar surface, were 400,171 km (248,655 mi) from Earth. This record-breaking distance was reached at 0:21 UTC on 15 April 1970.


Beside Apollo flights the highest achieved orbit by humans was

Quote: “Space Shuttle Discovery re-boosted the orbit of Hubble during STS-82 (in 1997) and in the process reached 620 km altitude, which is higher than any other Shuttle flight”.


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    $\begingroup$ The highest achieved orbit by humans (depending on your definition of highest) could also be Gemini 11, in a 300x1370km orbit $\endgroup$
    – costrom
    May 20, 2019 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ speaking of doglegs, Which launch was the first to use a dogleg maneuver? is currently unanswered. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 21, 2019 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent answer, sorry I could only award the tick to one person and the other answer gives a more complete one on the inclination question :( . Upvoted tho! $\endgroup$
    – Moo
    May 21, 2019 at 23:11

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