A Race to Space

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“[We] should commit … [ourselves] to achieving the goal before this decade is out,” U.S. President John F. Kennedy proposed to Congress on May 25, 1961, “of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Over 35 years before, the U.S. and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the Soviet Union, which Russia was part of, had been concentrating on making rockets for two uses: to travel through space and to shoot as missiles. However, they were focusing on missiles. Nevertheless, after the war ended, Russia started thinking about space. The U.S.S.R. launched two satellites in 1957, followed by the U.S. launching a satellite the next year. In 1961, the Soviets sent the first person to space, once again followed by the U.S., this time within a margin of a month. Would the U.S.A. or the U.S.S.R. take the next step, which was a manned moon landing, first?

On October 4, 1957, the Soviets used an R-7 rocket to launch Sputnik I, which was a sphere satellite with a 23-inch diameter that weighed 184 pounds. They launched Sputnik II December 3, with a dog named Laika. The launches astounded Americans and they hurried to create the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. The Space Race had been started! The U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. started fiercely competing to get to the moon. The U.S. hurriedly launched the Explorer I satellite with a Juno I rocket. It was the third working satellite and the first working U.S. satellite. Then, in 1959, the U.S.S.R. thought that their satellite Luna I would fly to the moon. However, the satellite overshot because of a guidance problem, and headed towards the sun. The U.S.S.R. and the U.S. had found a better use for rockets than weapons!

As the first person in space, Soviet Yuri Gagarin orbited the globe for 108 minutes in Vostok I on April 12, 1961. The second, American Alan B. Shepard, who flew for 15 minutes and 28 seconds, traveled in space on May 3, 1961 without completing an orbit around the earth. John Glen was the first American to complete an orbit in 1962. Russian Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space in 1963. Two years later, Alexei Leonov of the U.S.S.R. took the first spacewalk. After the walk, however, he discovered that his suit had expanded! Try as he might, he could not get in the hatch because his inflated suit was too fat. Nevertheless, he finally fit in after he let some air out. The first American spacewalker, Edward White, also walked in 1965.

In September 1962, during a historic speech in Houston, Texas, U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced, “We choose to go to the moon,” promising the U.S. that before 1970, the nation would land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. The U.S.S.R. was also planning to fly to the moon, although they did not publicly state it. By 1963, Russia was winning the Space Race. Tragically, Sergei Korolev, who was a trainee in the Soviet space program, died. This was a loss because now they had to train someone else. By 1968, the U.S. had pulled ahead. In December 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the moon and returned to earth safely with three men. However, time was running out! Would NASA honor Kennedy’s challenge? They did. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michal Collins were the 3-person crew of Apollo 11. They launched from Earth on July 16 and arrived at the moon on July 19. The crew orbited the moon until the lunar module Eagle separated from the command module Colombia and landed the next day, on July 20, 1968. After the Eagle landed, Armstrong broadcasted to Command Central in Houston, Texas, “The Eagle has landed,” and proceeded to set food on the moon. His first words on the moon were, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin followed, stating, “Beautiful view!” Collins stayed in Colombia. They left the moon on July 21, left its orbit on the July 22, and splashed down in Earth’s Pacific Ocean on July 24. Apollo 12 followed to the moon in November 1969, and Apollo 13 in April 1970. However, Apollo 13 exploded, so they aborted their mission to the moon. They barely made it back to earth safely. Apollo 17, which was the sixth successful maned moon landing, splashed down on December 9, 1972. Since then, no one has been to the moon. The U.S.S.R. did not even make it after four failures. Two of the United States’ successful journeys to the moon were in 1969. NASA had honored Kennedy’s promise to get to the moon in the 1960s!

The first satellites appeared in 1957, but the first people in space did not come for four more years, in 1961. The first manned moon landing was in 1969 – eight years later. Now, which of these events is the most important? Maybe the first people in space is because someone cannot travel to the moon if they do not even know how to stay alive in space. On the other hand, maybe the first people on the moon is most important because moon dust and moon rocks are interesting. However, sending satellites to space is the most important overall because we use satellites for internet, email, calling, radio, GPS, mobile data, TV, and much more. The race to space still has a major impact on every day life.


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One thought on “A Race to Space

  • I liked reading this, Paul. When I was a girl, we would stand in our backyard St night to spot the first satellites crossing the sky. Somewhere I have a picture we took the night we sat in front of the TV and watched that first step on the moon.
    So who won the space race? The Soviet Union because they sent up the first dsyellites and the first men in dpa e, or the United States, because we stepped on the moon first? And which is better? A race between nations, which tends to accelerate progress, or a cooperative space station, where technology, costs, and progress are shared. And then, of course, the question for 2018 is, do we need to create and fund a “space force” to militarize space?

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