The Space Race
The Space Race
May 1961. The President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, delivers a passionate speech. … 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… This is a very ambitious goal, something no one has ever done before! President Kennedy is determined to achieve it — and in less than 10 years! Why is this so important?
Why do it now? Let’s go back in time. After World War 2, there is political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both countries want to establish international dominance. They demonstrate power by developing new military technology - missiles and nuclear weapons.
They want to show off power without starting a direct war. So, instead of using the new weapons against each other, the governments use this new technology to compete in conquering space. In 1955, both countries announce separately they will be the first to place a satellite in Earth’s orbit. The Space Race begins. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launch their first satellite, Sputnik 1, securing the first victory!
A month later, another satellite, Sputnik 2, carries the first animal into space — the dog Laika. The Americans are devastated. It takes them three more months to launch their first satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958. The Soviets maintain their lead in the Space Race. The year after, the Soviets launch Luna 1, which goes beyond Earth’s orbit, and Luna 2 — the first space probe to reach the moon.
The Americans try to catch up, but the Soviets are way ahead… Then, another great triumph for the Soviets... On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space. He flies once around Earth and returns safely. Just three weeks later, American astronaut Alan Shepard makes his first flight. But it’s too late for the Americans - credit for ‘first human in space’ already belongs to the Soviets.
The Americans realise there is only one thing left to do, to get ahead in the Space Race: land the first human on the moon! This is when President Kennedy delivers his speech to Congress to get their backing. With a new, bigger budget, the Space Race intensifies. Both the US and the Soviet Union launch programs to bring them closer to victory. The first planetary fly-by, first spacewalk, new satellites… …and the first terrible failures.
In January 1967, the first American crewed mission to the moon, Apollo 1, fails. The spacecraft catches fire at launch and all three crew members die. The same year, a Soviet cosmonaut is killed on his return to Earth from the Soyuz 1 mission. But the stakes are too high to stop the race now… On July 20, 1969, eight years after President Kennedy’s speech, 600 million people worldwide turn on their televisions... to watch astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin step out of the Apollo 11 lunar module onto the surface of the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Four days later, the Apollo 11 crew returns safely to Earth.
President Kennedy’s vision has come true. It’s a huge victory for the United States over the Soviet Union. After the moon landing, the Space Race slows down. In the early 1970s, negotiations between the two countries begin to ease tension. On July 17, 1975, the US and Soviet Union dock two spacecraft together in Earth’s orbit; the astronauts shake hands.
The first international space mission has begun — the Space Race is over.