Two Countries: A Quest for the Stars – The Space Race and Its Major Events

After World War II ended in the middle of the 20th century, a new point of conflict began. Faced with a war-hungry generation and a surplus of air pilots, both the US and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) entered the Cold War. This put the two biggest nations against each other, trying to outmaneuver and outdo each other in reaching space. The degree of competition was just too much as they considered each other enemies. If anything good came out of the Space Race, it proved that we could go to the moon and survive space. Many technological advancements, such as Wi-Fi, solar cells, and even artificial limbs, were made for space exploration.

What prompted the Space Race?

It was the threat of nuclear weapons. The US was so afraid of the USSR producing nuclear weapons, and each country spied on the other. They also supported wars in various countries in Asia. The erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis certainly did not help.

Record of Firsts

While the US thought that the USSR was developing a nuclear arsenal, it was actually working on getting men to space. With no more war to fight on Earth and many skilled pilots, it was only natural to set eyes on the beyond. Given the USSR’s perseverance, it was able to send its first artificial satellite, the Sputnik 1, into orbit. The Russians were also given credit for sending the first man into orbit, the first woman in space, and even the first monkey.

The Creation of NASA

Angered by being outdone, the US government took a somber view of the matter. President John F. Kennedy made a bold declaration, saying that the USA would be the first man on the moon by the end of the decade—effectively putting a timeline and a tangible goal. Previously, President Dwight Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and it started making investments in identifying, training, and then sending astronauts into space.

The USA’s Firsts

Explorer 1 became the first American satellite to be sent to space. Meanwhile, Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. was the first American sent to space and was also able to walk on the moon in 1971. John Glenn copied Yuri Gagarin’s achievement and was given the honor of being the first American to orbit the Earth for a whole 89 minutes.

The Apollo Projects

Right after Kennedy’s bold statement, everyone went to work. The Apollo project became full swing, and from 1961 to 1964, NASA’s budget was increased by as much as 500%. In the meantime, the Soviet lunar landing was proceeding cautiously, as certain groups did not see the value in moving on with the quest for the moon. The US was set on reaching the moon, and in 1968, it launched Apollo 9, which was given credit for being the first manned mission to orbit the moon.

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched, and the investments made by the US government eventually paid off. It was able to meet its goal of reaching the moon by the close of the decade. Glenn Armstrong also became the first man to land and walk on the moon’s surface, sending the famous “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” all the way from the moon to the millions of listeners back on Earth. The level of elation felt by the whole world then was very evident in the air.

The Russians also made several attempts to land on the moon between 1969 and 1972, but they were unsuccessful. One major setback was when a launchpad explosion happened, likely caused by leaking gas or perhaps electrical failure that sent the N1 rocket back to the ground.

Who won?

Given that the US was able to send men to the moon several times, it was the apparent winner of the Space Race. The Russians, however, were not to be discounted because they were the first in many, and the investments they made spurred the development of various technologies that we are using today. Could things have been different if the US and the USSR cooperated instead of competed? Only time will tell. Together with several others, these two countries are working in tandem at the International Space Station now, so we will see what good news brings us.

Photo Sources:

Cover Photo – Twitter
Photo 1 – Twitter
Photo 2 – NASA
Photo 3 – NASA
Photo 4 – NASA