The space race started in the late 1950s.
The Soviet Union and the USA were locked into the Cold War and getting man into space and onto the moon first was what the space race was all about. Of course it was a little more complicated than simply wanting to be first.
The two powers wanted to prove their their particular system of governance was better – the Soviet Union had communism and the United States had capitalism. Whichever side had the superior technology and military firepower would prove it had the superior political-economic system.
Sputnik was launched on 4th October 1957 and was the first artificial satellite that was put into orbit. It’s launch was a surprise to the Americans, especially since it was launched using a Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile.
In 1958 the US launched their own satellite, Explorer 1 and President Eisenhower signed the public order that created NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Luna 2 was the Soviets next big push into space, as it was the first space probe to hit the moon.
Then came yet another first by the Soviets – on 12th April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth in Vostock 1. Alan Shepard became the first American in space on 5th May 1961, though he didn’t orbit the earth. It wasn’t until February 1962 when John Glenn went into space that the Americans orbited the earth.
The Apollo Program
In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy made a very bold statement – that the US would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
Throughout the 1960s, 34,000 NASA employees and 375,000 contractors poured their efforts into getting man on the moon.
On 27th January 1967, the Apollo 1 tragedy claimed the lives of Edward White, Command Pilot; Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Commander and Roger Chaffee, Pilot. The Apollo 1 spacecraft caught fire during a launch simulation and the three astronauts couldn’t escape the flames.
In December 1968, Apollo 8 was launched as the first manned space mission to orbit the moon.
On 16th July 1969 Neil Armstrong, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off in Apollo 11 to attempt the first moon landing in history.
Of course we know now that they were successful and the immortal words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” have become forever etched into our minds, but at the time there were no guarantees and more than a few nervous people anxiously waiting to hear whether the United States had done the unimaginable and actually put a man on the moon.
The End of the Space Race
By landing on the moon, the United States had won the space race. The Soviets still tried to make their own moon landing, and had four failed attempts between 1969 and 1972. One of these attempts included a launch-pad explosion in July 1969.
As the United States had won the space race, public interest in lunar missions began to dwindle and the Apollo 13 mission was barely mentioned or even broadcast until it encountered a catastrophic failure during the mission flight.
Yet today, we are still fascinated by space, the exploration of it and the possibility that we will one day travel between different worlds and discover new life out there amongst the stars.
In Exchange is currently available for pre-order for Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Kindle readers, priced at $2.99, and will be officially launched on 12th April 2016.