In the 1950’s, because of the political climate, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union started to heat up. With political differences and the various allies of capitalist and communist ideals throughout the world, the two superpowers began to have a rivalry in many areas, including a race to find out which country would be the first into space.
In May of 1954, the Soviet government had the idea for an earth orbiting artificial satellite proposed to them. However, the first official announcement of space flight came from the United States in July 1955. A week later the Russians also announced that the plan for a satellite had been approved, and the space race began.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union began working on space projects, with neither country releasing great amounts of detail, in hopes of being the first in space. After years of testing, on October 4, 1957, Sputnik was launched into space. Upon launch, the Russian government was monitoring progress and waited until the completion of the first orbit to have TASS announce that the first satellite had been built. The satellite remained in orbit for a couple of months, before falling back to Earth in December 1957.
Upon hearing the news that the Soviets had beaten them into space, the United States was embarrassed that they had lost the space race to launch the first satellite, and also many citizens were concerned that the “commies” had something in the air going over their houses. This event sparked the next phase of the space race, which was putting the first man in space.
To counteract the Russians, who won the first space race in 1958, the United States government established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to begin the initiative to make Americans the first to launch a human into space. Following the years since the first Sputnik launch, here is a brief timeline of events:
– November 3, 1957 – the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2, with a dog on board.
– January 31, 1958 – the United States launches Explorer 1, which is the first U.S. satellite in space.
– January 2, 1959 – Luna 1 is launched by the Soviet Union and is the first satellite to orbit the moon.
– April 12, 1961 – Vostok 1 is launched by the Soviet Union, carrying Cosmonaut Yuri A. Gargarin, who becomes the first man in space.
– May 5, 1961 – Mercury Freedom 7 carries Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first U.S. Astronaut into space.
– February 20, 1962 – Mercury Friendship 7 lifts off with John H. Glenn, Jr., the first American in orbit.
– March 18, 1965 – The first walk in space is made from Soviet Voskhod 2 by Cosmonaut Alexei A. Leonov.
– July 20, 1969 – Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong make the first moon landing, and take the first moonwalk, from Apollo 11.
In the years since the first moon landing, and the end of the Cold War, the space program has evolved from a race between the United States and the Soviet Union to a co-operative effort to understand space. In the years following, space exploration has continued with manned flights to the Moon along with the launch of collaborative space stations, which have been manned by people from both countries. Other resources on space travel are available:
– U.S. Space and Rocket Center – resource which contains information on space travel in the U.S.
– StarChild – educational resource from NASA about space exploration.
– Space History – an educational resource on the history of space exploration.
– Apollo Missions – a guide to the Apollo space missions and additional resources.
From the humble beginnings of a single satellite to missions to the Moon and Mars, space travel has provided us with valuable information about what’s outside the Earth’s atmosphere.