Space Programmes Manned
Manned space flight was an arena of intense national competition between the
United States and the Soviet Union from the time of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering
flight in 1961 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union 30 years later.
Although the race visibly reached its climax with the first Apollo Moon landing
in 1969, space flight continued to be a component of Cold-War rivalry for the
following two decades.
Vostok and Mercury Programmes
The USSR was first into space with a man, cosmonaut Yury A. Gagarin, who made
one orbit of the Earth in Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961. During his flight time of
1 hour, 48 minutes, he reached an apogee of 327 km (203 mi) and a perigee of 180
km (112 mi). He landed safely in Siberia. In the next two years five more Vostok
flights were made. The pilot of Vostok 6 was Valentina Tereshkova, the first
woman to fly in space. Launched on June 16, 1963, she orbited the Earth 48
Preparing Vostok for launch
Meanwhile, a similar US
programme, called Mercury, was taking shape. On May 5, 1961, Commander Alan
B. Shepard, Jr., of the US Navy, became the first American in space. The
Mercury spacecraft, named Freedom 7, flew a ballistic trajectory and made a
15-minute sub-orbital flight. A similar flight followed on July 21, flown by
Captain Virgil I. Grissom of the US Air Force. On February 20, 1962,
Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr. of the US Marine Corps became the
first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, in a flight of three orbits (in
1998, Glenn made a flight on the shuttle mission STS-95, becoming, at the
age of 77, the oldest person ever to go into space). Three additional
Mercury flights were made in 1962 and 1963 by Lieutenant Colonel M. Scott
Carpenter of the navy, Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., also of the navy,
and Major Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr., of the air force.
Astronaut Alan B. Shepard completed the first piloted flight of the United
States space programme on board Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961. After 15 minutes
22 seconds of flight, the capsule splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean,
where Shepard was picked up by a naval helicopter.