Including the suborbital flight of Alan Shepard, what altitudes did the first men in space reach? I am looking for a list of maybe the first 5-10 people who reached orbit, but also the first suborbital flights around that period.

An infographic gets bonus points!

  • $\begingroup$ What about X-15 flights? They got 'astronaut' wings for those flights. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    May 15, 2014 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ I considered asking about those flights as well, but wanted to keep it simple. $\endgroup$
    – Stu
    May 15, 2014 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Stu "Fix your little problem and light this candle" -Alan B. Shepard. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2022 at 8:14

1 Answer 1


This really depends on your definition of astronaut. The Google definition is:

a person who is trained to travel in a spacecraft.

I'd suggest that the first person ever trained to travel in a spacecraft never actually flew. Again this depends on your definition of training though I suppose.

However I fear this isn't the answer you're looking for. If you're definition is the first man into space then we're talking about Yuri Gagarin, at 324.9 km apogee.

Interestingly if you type "yuri gagarin altitude" into Google it tells you his height - either that or he flew a very low spacecraft at some point. Put together the two facts from this answer and what do you have? Nonsense!. :)

Edit: The following apogee altitudes are in kilometres. They are ordered by launch date.

Vostok 1    324.9       (Gagarin)
Mercury 3   187.5       (Shepard, suborbital)
Mercury 4   190.31      (Grissom, suborbital)
Vostok  2   244         (Titov)
Mercury 6   265         (Glenn)
Mercury 7   260         (Carpenter)
Vostok  3   218         (Nikolayev)
Vostok  4   211         (Popovich)
Mercury 8   283         (Schirra)
Mercury 9   267         (Cooper)


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ stand 206,000 Yuri's on top of each other and the last one will reach his apogee. $\endgroup$
    – Stu
    May 15, 2014 at 15:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ yup, that's perfect! thanks. interesting how no one reached Yuri's apogee for a long time.. $\endgroup$
    – Stu
    May 15, 2014 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ @geoffc: it is not surprising that these missions are below ISS altitude. They were all short duration-the longest Mercury mission was less than 2 days, Vostok 2 was about 25 hours. You don't need a higher altitude to stay aloft that long, and it reduces the rocket payload to go higher. ISS is designed to stay aloft for decades, so needs to be higher to reduce the drag and therefore the reboost requirements. $\endgroup$ May 15, 2014 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ Yuri only got to 5'2" altitude? Oh man! All those wasted nights in April to celebrate Yuri's Night for nought. $\endgroup$ May 15, 2014 at 17:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Russian uses the same word for height and altitude so maybe Google is thrown off by bad translation? $\endgroup$
    – ventsyv
    Jan 28, 2016 at 19:39

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