World War II and the Cold War
We all know that man landed its feet on the Moon. Most of us know that Neil Armstrong was the first man to succeed in that mission. But what else do we know about this historic achievement of the Moon landing in 1969 or Space race which preceded?
Humankind always had aspirations in the exploration of outer space. No, really… How many times did you find yourself watching the stars and wondering what’s really out there? Or dreaming about seeing the worlds behind our galaxy? Well, you are not alone.
The scientific-technical revolution that occurred somewhere between the 1940s and 1970s brought rockets powerful enough to overcome the Earth’s force of gravitation and reach orbital velocities. World War II was shaking the world. Germans and Brits developed missiles that could attack the enemy in the 200-mile range (320km). This five-year terrible chaos that struck the world made a race in scientific technology faster than ever.
Following the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union started their own missile programs. Their primary intention was to dominate the world in space exploration. This period of geopolitical tensions led to the Cold War-era and nuclear weapons race. In a relatively short amount of time, throughout the official period of the Cold War, 2,383 nuclear explosions shook our blue planet. Yes, you read well. 2,383 nuclear explosions.
The Space Race
But let’s stick to our story. The Space Race went hand in hand with nuclear tensions. The United States and the USSR developed long-range weapons with which they could strike the territory of the other. In summer of 1957, the Soviets successfully launched the world’s first intercontinental ballistic projectile, and in autumn they launched the first Earth satellite, Sputnik 1. In other words, the launch of Sputnik officially initiated the Space Race.
Sputnik was a small, beeping ball, no more than 2 feet (60cm) in width and weighing less than 200 pounds (90 kg). The United States were provoked by that Russian act. Their answer to Sputnik was Project Vanguard, also known as Vanguard Test Vehicle Three. That was the first attempt of the United States to launch a satellite into orbit around the Earth – and it was a failure.
One month after project Vanguard, on January 31, 1958, and nearly four months after the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1, United States successfully launched its first satellite – Explorer 1. It was ejected on a booster rocket Juno I at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Explorer 1 was about 30 pounds (14 kg) in mass. The payload of Explorer 1 weighed 18.35 pounds (8.32 kg). It carried a micrometeorite gauge and a Geiger-Müller device which measured three phenomena: cosmic ray and radiation levels, the temperature in the spacecraft, and the frequency of contacts with micrometeorites.
In April of that year, US President Dwight Eisenhower suggested to the Congress that a civilian agency should be established to direct space activities. The following July, that particular law established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a subject for organizing the nation’s civilian and military space programs.
First man in space
The subsequent ten years brought numerous groundbreaking achievements on both sides of the Cold War front. You have likely heard about some of them, like the dog named Laika, the first animal in space. But was it the only one? Definitely not. Laika was the first animal but definitely not the last. Monkeys, guinea pigs, rabbits, frogs, reptiles, chimpanzees, mice; they have all flown into space in the subsequent years. But do you have any idea who the very first person in space was?
OK, that one is rather easy. It was, again, Soviet Air Forces pilot and astronaut Yuri Gagarin. On April 1961, he became the first human to travel to space, reaching an important checkpoint for Russia in the Space Race. Not only that, but Yuri orbited the space too. America was now on the move. Less than a month later, Admiral Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., an American astronaut, became the first American to travel to space.
The Race toward the Moon began
A couple of months before Shepard’s flight to space, the American president John F. Kennedy directed the Race toward the Moon. “We choose to go to the Moon,” Kennedy declared in front of a large crowd gathered in Houston, Texas. That speech was intended to convince the American people to support the Apollo project, the national attempt to land a man on the Moon.
It took 8 years to accomplish this goal – Moon Landing in 1969.
During those 8 years, the Space race was equally dramatic and inspiring. Nuclear testing and explosions were more frequent than ever. Series of space exploration tests were present on both sides. Projects like Vostok and Mercury brought some new achievements, like the first woman into space and the first American that orbited the Earth.
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was the first woman that flew into space on a solo mission on the Vostok 6. That mission happened on June 16th, 1963. Soviet missions at that time achieved other significant firsts, like the first EVA “spacewalk” and the first spacecraft with a three-cosmonaut crew.
More ongoing projects like Project Gemini and Soyuz Program were building experience and knowledge bases of both sides.
Apollo 11 and Moon Landing in 1969
It was the 17th of July in 1969. The sky was clear with some light winds and temperatures around 85F (30C). Summer was already in full swing. That was also a good day for a rocket launch and this decision was made that morning in the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida. The rest is history:
- Neil Armstrong, Mission Commander
- Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot
- Buzz Aldrin, Lunar Module Pilot
- July 16. 08:32:00 am. The launch is shaking the ground of Florida.
- July 19. 12:21:50 pm. Lunar orbit insertion.
- July 20. 03:17:40 pm. Lunar landing.
- July 24. 04:50:35 pm. Returned to Earth.
- 650 million people watched Armstrong’s televised image and heard his voice saying “…that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.
And it definitely was. That was the greatest achievement of mankind and in July 2019 we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the epic journey Apollo 11.
Today, billionaires are racing in the game to return to the Moon, and ultimately to go to Mars. As a matter of fact, on February 6, 2018, from the same place as the launch of Apollo 11, on February 6th, Tesla launched Tesla Roadster on a trip to Mars.
Still, Moon Landing in 1969 set the most important and complex step for humankind as of yet. In technology, at least.
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