The Space Race
The Cold War
If you look at a globe and find Russia on it, you’re looking at the main part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union (SU) consisted of Russia and other small countries in Europe and Asia. All in all the SU and the United States of America (USA) were thought to be the most powerful unions in the world. The two clashed constantly but never physically, each tried to be better than the other, and this was called the Cold War.
The space race was a competition between the SU and the USA about who could advance and explore in space the most. People think it began roughly in 1957 or when Sputnik was launched.
The SU began the Space Race with Sputnik, the first satellite. The SU launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957. Sputnik weighed 184 pounds or more than 80 kg, was a large steel ball, and had the diameter of 23 inches. The satellite had four long antennas and sent out a radio signal. The signal’s batteries ran out 22 days later, Sputnik still orbited the Earth every 96 minutes, until on January 4, 1958; it was destroyed while entering the atmosphere. The Americans launched their first ever satellite, Explorer 1 about 4 months after Sputnik.
First in Space
Yuri Gagarin became the first man on Earth to enter orbit on April 12, 1961. Gagarin was in the Soviet Union’s shuttle Vostok and today that day is celebrated in Russia and other countries. The launch was kept secret from most Americans. The Soviet Union had a secret launching ground and even made sure the shuttle wouldn’t land in the water, in case a US ship saw it. The spacecraft had oxygen tanks, radiators, batteries, and survival equipment. The spacecraft itself was a small, ball-shaped, one-person module.
Twenty-three days later on May 5, Alan Shepard entered space for 15 minutes, becoming the first American in space. Soon after, President Kennedy, who was worried about the Soviet Union winning the space race, asked NASA to launch someone to the moon. Kennedy said, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." Before the moon landing, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. The Soviet Union had another victory when on June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.
- To orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth,
- To investigate man's ability to function in space,
- To recover both man and spacecraft safely.
These were the goals NASA set when they began the Mercury project. Project Mercury was the first manned spaceflight program the US ever conducted. The project ran from 1959 to 1963 and consisted of 6 successful flights. The Astronauts Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Donald Slayton all returned safely from their flights into space. NASA began work on Project Mercury in 1959, trying to beat the Soviet Union to space. However, Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union made it to space first by 23 days.
On December 19, 1960, an unmanned capsule was launched to space and returned, undamaged, back to Earth. On the second unmanned Mercury flight, there was a passenger. Ham the monkey was launched into space with the capsule. Ham behaved normally in space and completed all his tasks, then returned to Earth safely. This experiment suggested that humans could go to space safely. Alan Shepard became the first American in space. Grissom’s flight in the Liberty Bell capsule was a copy of Shepard’s, and all went smoothly until the splash down. A hatch opened and water rushed into the capsule. Grissom was saved but the capsule sank. John Glenn orbited the Earth in his space capsule and made it back safely, though there were several small problems. Glenn was also the first American to eat in space. Carpenter orbited the Earth three times and his only problem was he landed 250 miles off course. Schirra orbited the Earth nearly six times before landing in the Pacific Ocean. Project Mercury ended on May 15, 1963, when Cooper was launched into space for one whole day. Slayton did not complete a Mercury mission but kept on working as an astronaut for NASA.
Project Mercury’s goal was to get someone in space, and the Apollo project’s goal was to get someone on the moon. The Gemini project was a bridge between them. The Gemini spacecraft was more advanced than the Mercury capsule. The Gemini craft was more than twice as big as the Mercury capsule, faster than the capsule, and could move backwards and sideways. Unlike the Mercury capsule, the Gemini craft could hold two people. Grissom, Young, Mcdivitt, White, Cooper, Conrad, Borman, Lovell, Schirra, Stafford, Armstrong, Scott, Cernan, Collins, Gordon, and Aldrin were the astronauts that manned the ten launches.
After two unmanned missions that went well, NASA decided to try a manned mission (Gemini III). Astronauts Grissom and Young were launched into orbit on March 23, 1965. Their launch lasted nearly five hours and the crew tested how the spacecraft moved by changing its orbit. In the Gemini IV, astronauts McDivitt and White tried to catch up with the rocket that launched them into space but failed and had to come back to Earth. In this mission, White spent about 20 minutes out of the craft. He drifted around space but still was attached to the craft. McDivitt said he could tell White was having fun.
The missions became longer and Cooper's and Conrad’s flight (Gemini V) was about eight days and proved that humans could go to the moon and back safely. A rocket blew up once in the program, but no one was injured; however the astronauts Schirra and Stafford now didn’t have a craft. So NASA combined two missions. Gemini VI was launched with Borman and Lovell as a crew; later Gemini VII was launched into space too. One of the main goals for the Gemini program was to have two crafts meet in space. NASA expected missions VI and VII to fulfill this goal. They did: the two crafts stayed close to each other for five hours, and at one point they were only one foot apart.
When mission VIII was launched in 1966 the capsule started to spin and rotate! Luckily astronauts Armstrong and Scott steadied the craft and landed safely in the ocean. Mission IX failed to dock with a rocket it was supposed to, and when astronaut Cernan worked on the spacecraft his helmet fogged up and he had to be pulled back in.
The last missions went successfully. Astronauts Young and Collins did a mixture of experiments, and Collins walked from his craft to an Agena rocket. Mission XI was made to practice what astronauts would do to land on the moon. The very last mission, XII, was crewed by Lovell and Aldrin, and lasted about four days.
Apollo was NASA’s third human space program. By the end of the Apollo program there were six successful flights to the moon. The Apollo program lasted from 1961-1975, and in 1975 the last person walked on the moon; no one has walked on the moon since.
The idea for Apollo was originally thought of in 1960 by President Kennedy. Kennedy hoped to put a man on the moon show that the US was better than the Soviet Union. The US had not advanced far in space exploration and some NASA workers didn’t think this Apollo idea possible. The Apollo idea caused NASA’s budget to rise 30 percent and NASA had to be supported by over 20,000 firms and universities. Choosing from four possible mission modes, NASA, at first, chose direct ascent: a space craft would launch straight to the moon, land, and return. A very large booster was required for this plan. But in the end, a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous was chosen: a space craft that consisted of a command module and a lunar module would be launched into space; the command module would orbit the moon, and the lunar module would land on the moon and then return to the command module for the flight home.
On January 21, 1967 a test of the Apollo mission was to take place. The astronauts, Virgil Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White, lost their lives.
Grissom first reported a “sour smell” in the space suit loop but the crew decided to continue. A high oxygen flow caused the crew to talk to the environmental control system personnel. The personnel thought it was because of the movement of the crew. Next the communications became faulty, first with Grissom, and then with the whole crew. This caused the launch to be held off. At 6:00 a.m., one crew member must have moved because there was a rise in the oxygen flow to the space suits. Seconds later a crewmember reported smelling fire. Then White reported urgently of a fire in the cockpit. The astronauts had never managed to evacuate quickly enough. Technicians tried to save the astronauts but the module ruptured before they could reach it and fire began to fill the room. Many people ran and some tried to save the astronauts. But the astronauts died of the smoke and some men were injured. This disaster was called Apollo 1 in honor of the astronauts who lost their lives.
With the exception of the disaster test, Apollo 1, the first Apollo missions up to Apollo 7 were unmanned. But all of them from Apollo 7 to Apollo 17 were manned. Apollo 7-10 weren’t launched to land on the moon. However they orbited the moon and came within 14 kilometers of it. Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 landed on the moon without problems.
A large part of the space race was getting a man to the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon in their ship Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. One day later, on the 21st, Neil Armstrong became the first American and first man to actually walk on the moon. His famous words as he walked on the moon were, “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
|Neil Armstrong is, the first man who stepped on the moon. Click here to read our interview with him.|
In the Apollo program there were two disasters: the first was Apollo 1 and the second was Apollo 13. The Apollo 13 module was supposed to land on the moon but the space craft was badly damaged, and the astronauts barely made it back to Earth.
Apollo 14 through 17 landed on the moon and brought back samples of lunar rocks. Since Apollo 17 in 1975, no one has landed or walked on the moon.