I grew up in the Space Shuttle era. With the exception of the Mars rovers, not much has caught my imagination in the space race since. Until SpaceX that is. SpaceX is impressive. Consistent innovation and driven by high aspirations. Their technology has made private commercial launches the driving force in the field. Watching their rockets land on barges at sea, and knowing they keep successfully reusing them is inspiring.
A Lot Has Changed in 60 Years: Vostok 1
Vostok 1 was launched on April 12th, 1961. It was basically a bunch of 1950s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), strapped together, with a tiny deep-sea submarine, ironically referred to as a decent module, attached to it. The ICBMs got the submarine into orbit, and the submarine kept a pilot alive for a bit over an hour in space. And then? How does a submarine descend from orbit? It doesn't. The pilot, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was ejected at 7km and parachuted down. With modern parachutes, extreme skydivers parachute a little over 4km. So how did that 7km with 1960s technology go? He lived. He came down well outside of the drop zone, landing in a farm field where he walked, still in his spacesuit, dragging his parachute, until he came upon farmers. He negotiated with the farmers to take him by horse and cart to a local collective farm that had a telephone and he called Moscow.