The Space Race
"One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union
First walk on the moon by Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969.
First American in Space
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. He flew on a Mercury spacecraft. There was just enough room for one person. He named his capsule Freedom 7. It launched on a Redstone rocket. The Army first used the Redstone as a missile. On this flight, Shepard did not orbit Earth. He flew 116 miles high. Then he came back down. The flight lasted about 15 ½ minutes. The mission was a success.
Alan Shepard in his space suit moments before taking off.
The U.s. increasing its Space power
In 1958, the U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer I, designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. That same year, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a public order creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a federal agency dedicated to space exploration.
Eisenhower also created two national security-oriented space programs that would operate simultaneously with NASA’s program. The first, spearheaded by the U.S. Air Force, dedicated itself to exploiting the military potential of space. The second, led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Air Force and a new organization called the National Reconnaissance Office (the existence of which was kept classified until the early 1990s) was code-named Corona; it would use orbiting satellites to gather intelligence on the Soviet Union and its allies.
the intensity increases
In 1959, the Soviet space program took another step forward with the launch of Luna 2, the first space probe to hit the moon. In April 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit Earth, traveling in the capsule-like spacecraft Vostok 1. For the U.S. effort to send a man into space, dubbed Project Mercury, NASA engineers designed a smaller, cone-shaped capsule far lighter than Vostok; they tested the craft with chimpanzees, and held a final test flight in March 1961 before the Soviets were able to pull ahead with Gagarin’s launch. On May 5, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space (though not in orbit).
Later that May, President John F. Kennedy made the bold, public claim that the U.S. would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. In February 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth, and by the end of that year, the foundations of NASA’s lunar landing program–dubbed Project Apollo–were in place.
The space race came to an end
By landing on the moon, the United States effectively “won” the space race that had begun with Sputnik’s launch in 1957. For their part, the Soviets made four failed attempts to launch a lunar landing craft between 1969 and 1972, including a spectacular launch-pad explosion in July 1969. From beginning to end, the American public’s attention was captivated by the space race, and the various developments by the Soviet and U.S. space programs were heavily covered in the national media. This frenzy of interest was further encouraged by the new medium of television. Astronauts came to be seen as the ultimate American heroes, and earth-bound men and women seemed to enjoy living vicariously through them. Soviets, in turn, were pictured as the ultimate villains, with their massive, relentless efforts to surpass America and prove the power of the communist system.
With the conclusion of the space race, U.S. government interest in lunar missions waned after the early 1970s. In 1975, the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission sent three U.S. astronauts into space aboard an Apollo spacecraft that docked in orbit with a Soviet-made Soyuz vehicle. When the commanders of the two crafts officially greeted each other, their “handshake in space” served to symbolize the gradual improvement of U.S.-Soviet relations in the late Cold War-era.
Image of Buzz Aldrin on the moon.
"Space Race: Could the U.S. Have Beaten the Soviets Into Space?"Space.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
Dunbar, Brian. NASA. NASA, 19 May 2008. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.