The Space Race

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Press in communist countries acknowledged the launch but downplayed its broader significance. Following these Soviet successes in space, the Eisenhower administration introduced a new set of policies designed to give the United States a more competitive edge over its Cold War rival. As a direct response to Sputnik, the U. The Space Act gave the new agency charge of securing U. Negotiating the interests of the Eisenhower administration, the Department of Defense, Congress, and the scientific community, the Space Act became the core statement guiding U.

By separating the civilian and military space programs, the United States could carry out highly classified national security-related activities while simultaneously promoting its open and peaceful space efforts on the international stage. The Space Act also specified that NASA pursue international collaboration, essentially making the agency a branch of American diplomacy.

1950s: early space programmes

In the United States sent five civilian satellites into orbit and two probes into outer space. A year later NASA had successfully launched four more satellites and hurled one space probe past the Moon and on to the Sun. Two monkeys, Able and Baker, rode rockets into space and returned to Earth alive and well. Although the United States space program made significant headway in the latter half of the s, the Soviet Union continued to accomplish many firsts in space.

In January , the U. The following fall Luna 2 took the first clear images of the Moon, and Luna 3 took the first images of the far side of the Moon. In August , the U. On April 12, , the Soviet Union achieved another important first in space with the orbital flight of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Like the launch of Sputnik 1 in , accomplishing the first human spaceflight gave the Soviet Union a major international propaganda victory that challenged American technoscientific, military, and political leadership. The report recommended that the United States invest in a lunar exploration program, noting that neither superpower currently possessed the rocket technology to reach the Moon.

Interest in and discussion of human exploration of the Moon, Mars, and other destinations had been taking place within the United States long before Kennedy proposed Project Apollo to Congress. In the s, science-fiction books, films, and space advocates, like Walt Disney and German rocket designer Wernher von Braun, popularized the notion that space travel would be possible in the near future.

In , NASA officials concluded that the agency should send humans to the Moon in the s and begin preparing for lunar exploration in the s. Kennedy accelerated this schedule in when he proposed that the United States send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. Initiating a warlike mobilization of financial and human resources, Project Apollo became the greatest open-ended peacetime commitment by Congress and, at the time, the most expensive civilian technological program in U. Throughout the s, hundreds of thousands of NASA employees and contractors developed new hardware and a vast infrastructure to support human spaceflight, astronauts flew missions that tested capabilities necessary for lunar exploration, and the United States Information Agency USIA promoted the American space program throughout the world with exhibits, films, books, pamphlets, lectures, and a host of other events and media.

Project Mercury, with its one-person crewed spacecraft, proved that the United States could successfully send humans into orbit. The next human spaceflight program, Project Gemini, tested rendezvous and docking, long duration spaceflight, and other capabilities necessary for the upcoming lunar missions.

By the end of the decade, over sixty nations had joined the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization Intelsat , and geosynchronous satellites provided global communications coverage, including live telecasts of Apollo missions to television sets around the world. Throughout the space race, there were multiple efforts to dull the intensity of the competition. In June , the United States and U. Conservatives argued that funding should be going to military space development while liberals suggested that social programs and education should be a greater national priority than lunar exploration.

In September , Kennedy offered the solution of turning Project Apollo into a cooperative program with the Soviet Union. This approach, Rusk explained, would help bridge the widening technological gap between the United States and its allies, and strengthen international bonds. In the s, NASA collaborated with countries around the world to develop satellites, build tracking facilities, and train the next generation of space scientists and engineers.

Many policymakers viewed these cooperative projects as a means of influencing the technological trajectory of other nations, attracting the most capable scientists to contribute to American space projects, and demonstrating U. Although these space efforts were less publicly visible than Sputnik or Project Apollo, they became essential components of aligning the values and interests of the emerging world order with those of the United States, an effort at the core of U.

The Soviet Union maintained a competitive position in the space race through much of the s. A few months after Gagarin became the first human in space, cosmonaut Gherman Titov took the first day-long flight in August Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space when she flew Vostok 6 in June The Soviet Voskhod 1 carried three cosmonauts into space in October , accomplishing the first multi-person spaceflight.

Science Museum

Alexei Leonov took the first spacewalk in March Even through the mids, it appeared that the U. Before the flight, Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman contacted USIA Science Advisor Simon Bourgin for guidance on composing an appropriate message for the global audience that would be tuning into the first telecast from the Moon. As the spacecraft circled the Moon, astronaut Bill Anders photographed the Earth appearing to rise above the lunar horizon.

Before he left office, President Lyndon Johnson selected this picture to include in his farewell letters to international political leaders as part of an effort to communicate that Project Apollo offered a new perspective of the planet as one world. Figure 1. NASA Administrator Thomas Paine created a Symbolic Activities Committee, which was in charge of planning the commemorative and public gestures the astronauts would carry out on the Moon.

The Apollo 11 crew also carried mementos from the three astronauts and two cosmonauts who had perished. Leading up to the first Moon landing, the USIA invested a significant portion of its annual budget in an extensive array of programs designed to heighten anticipation and excitement, sparing no expense to take advantage of this unprecedented public diplomacy opportunity.

The agency ran space-themed films in movies theaters, Apollo features on television stations in over a hundred countries, distributed millions of pamphlets, brochures, souvenirs, and photographs, and hosted a wide array of exhibits, from small window displays to large-scale exhibitions drawing millions of people. The USIA worked with foreign television networks to ensure that live coverage of the lunar landing would reach every potential TV set. In areas where live coverage was not possible, the USIA shipped foreign television networks copies of TV clips of the major phases of the mission as well as a final wrap-up after splashdown.

The Voice of America broadcast live coverage of the lunar landing in thirty-six languages for an audience of roughly million.

The Cold War

Another estimated million watched the lunar landing on television, the first live global broadcast in history. The Soviet Union restricted live coverage of the lunar landing, but broadcast the moonwalk three times. For the most part, Soviet media presented Apollo 11 as a shared human achievement, not an American accomplishment, and balanced enthusiasm for the mission alongside descriptions of the importance of the failed Soviet robotic probe Luna The media in China, North Korea, and North Vietnam did not acknowledge the flight while Cuban media covered some of the mission.

Although global enthusiasm for the first lunar landing was unprecedented, critique of Project Apollo and anti-U. President Nixon met the Apollo 11 crew when they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, Speaking to the crew through the window of the mobile quarantine facility on the aircraft carrier U.

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Hornet , Nixon told the astronauts that the White House had already received over a hundred congratulatory messages from foreign leaders. Nixon used his visit to Bucharest to send the message through Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu to North Vietnam and China that the United States was prepared to start normalizing relations. The list of countries the astronauts visited on their whirlwind tour can be read as an account of U. Figure 2. Americans, the report concluded, were enthusiastic about Apollo 11 but concerned with the cost of a large-scale space program given pressing domestic problems, including housing, education, civil rights, pollution, and urban renewal.

Historians have noted that Apollo 11 had a significant immediate and lasting impact on the image of U.

Who won the space race? - Jeff Steers

Without Soviet competition in lunar exploration, public interest in Project Apollo waned. Although enthusiasm for missions to the Moon persisted longer abroad than within the United States, NASA canceled the final three Apollo missions, citing budgetary reasons. In the s, the tenor of the international space competition shifted dramatically. While space exploration still served as a venue for demonstrating technological capabilities and the robustness of political systems, both superpowers felt the constraints of a changing global economy and the exigency of other domestic priorities.

In the spring of , with the achievement of the first Moon landing on the near horizon, President Richard Nixon and his advisors debated the future of human spaceflight as well as the future of U. Unlike Kennedy who treated space exploration as an essential top-down leadership initiative in the Cold War contest for hearts and minds, Nixon found few foreign relations or national security incentives for a robust and highly visible space mission like Project Apollo. Instead, the budget-conscious Nixon administration pushed for a space program that expanded cooperative activities—such as joint spacecraft projects, satellite broadcasting, and remote sensing—sharing the burden of cost with other nations while simultaneously solidifying political bonds with participating countries.

NASA had pushed for European participation in the technological development of the space shuttle, but by , due to fear of technological transfer, the United States limited the role of foreign cooperation to flying foreign astronauts and scientific experiments on the spacecraft.


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As part of U. The United States and U. While the American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft docked in orbit for two days, three American astronauts and two Soviet cosmonauts conducted joint experiments and exchanged gifts. The only differences between the two space programs, public relations material suggested, were linguistic, not ideological.

The Space Race | History | Smithsonian

Since the United States would put a man on the moon in , did that effectively end the race? Read on to find out. Space race technology traces back to wartime Germany. Germany had developed new missile capabilities during World War II that allowed them to shoot targets from far away. After the war, the U. Soon scientists realized that this same rocketry could propel people, rather than weapons, into the atmosphere and eventually to the moon. Do Astronauts Need Sunscreen in Space? A news clip of a US Air Force general discussing American missile technology and manned space flight.

A American political cartoon published after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. An excerpt from a May speech by President John F. Kennedy on urgent national needs, including the space program. A news clip of the hydrogen-powered American Centaur missile exploding after take-off.

An excerpt from footage of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, A model of the Soviet N-1 rocket, designed for a moon landing mission, ca. A news clip that includes a description of the Strategic Defense Initiative. A diagram of the International Space Station and the countries involved.

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