Cold War and the Conquest of Space

On July 20, 1969, the United States accomplished the impossible. It was on this day that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins set world history. On this day, this crew landed on the moon, finally proving once and for all that America led the world in technology and achievements. In the beginning, there were only two contenders in the race. However, recently, others are beginning to enter into the picture. In order to understand this fascination with the great beyond, one must understand the original race for space and the two superpowers that duked it out.

After WWII, the European powers were in disarray with no clear leader. The U.S. And the Soviet Union used propaganda and alliances to attempt to gain coveted influence (Parks). The race for space became a symbol of worldly position. There was more at stake in the race for space then reputation. As the two superpowers pitted against one another, the rest of the world had to decide which side they would support. The race for space would "prove" which side was the best pick for a teammate. Winning the race for space would give the winner a clear diplomatic advantage over the loser. This was the real importance of the space race.

History of the Space Race

For hundreds of thousands of years, man has looked up at the moon and asked many questions. The moon has been the source of superstition and awe for centuries, sparking lore and superstition in every culture in the world. The moon is a source of nightly wonder for people of the earth. However, until recently, the idea of going to the moon seemed like fantasy. Now the topic of lunar exploration is no longer outside of reality. It is reality and is the goal of many countries of the world.

The beginning of space exploration began just after World War II when the U.S. And the Soviet Union decided to advance their own missile programs (Aerospace). The launch of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik I signaled man's first venture into space. Sputnik was a small satellite about the size of a standard beach ball, which orbited the earth. Sputnik was the first orbiting satellite launched from earth (Aerospace). The Sputnik launched October 4, 1957 (Aerospace). Four years later, Russian Lt. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth in Vostok I (Aerospace).

It appeared that in the war for technological advancement, the Russians had an early lead. However, this pressure caused the U.S. To increase its efforts. The first U.S. Satellite, Explorer I launched January 31, 1958 (Aerospace). In 1961, Alan Shepard was the first U.S. astronaut to go into space (Aerospace). On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth (Aerospace). Now the two superpowers appeared to be in a neck in neck race for superiority. Every advancement by one was heralded by an advancement by the other.

After the success of the Soviet and U.S. human orbital flights, the thought entered the minds of technical gurus that man would land on the moon and return safely to earth with a decade (Aerospace). This national goal was set by John F, Kennedy in 1961, just shortly after the first successful human orbiting by the Russians. It was the U.S. answer to Soviet superiority in the beginning of the space race. However, for many, this dream still seemed too farfetched to every be a reality.

This is how the U.S. space race went in the early days. There were only two players in the game. Every time one player would make a move and boast of success, the other would answer by promising to perform an even more astounding feat in the future. The U.S. And Soviet Union went on like this for many years.

The United States did not simply leap into space and land on the moon. First came a series of unmanned flights to make certain that they had the technical portion right. These were known as the Saturn Missions, designated SA-1 through SA-10 (Kennedy Space Center). The next phase of development was the unmanned Apollo-Saturn missions (AS-201) through Apollo 6) (Kennedy Space Center). The details of these flights reveal that the trip to the moon was paved with successes and failures. NASA learned from their failures and celebrated their successes. Successes were signs that the United States was one step closer to putting a man on the moon and placed greater pressure on the Soviets to step up efforts.

These early unmanned missions allowed NASA to test emergency systems and every phase of the planned mission. Each mission had a specific objective and represented practice in the procedures that would become the backbone of NASA and the quest for space. Beginning with Apollo 7, missions were manned. Apollo 7 orbited the earth 163 times and was the first time that Americans could experience a broadcast from space (Kennedy Space Center). After this, live television broadcasts from missions became common place. America came to see the astronaut as a hero of the times. The astronaut became much like the comic book superhero. Every little boy wanted to become an astronaut when they grew up. Apollo 7 brought the space program right into American living rooms and they fell in love with it.

The Apollo missions became a symbol of American success and triumph over the enemy. They came to represent more than technological superiority. They became a symbol for the triumph of democracy over communism. With Apollo 9, the missions began to have catchy names attached, such as Gumdrop and Spider (Apollo 9) and Charlie Brown and Snoopy (Apollo 10) (Kennedy Space Center). This endeared them even more in the hearts of the American public.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took the most famous footstep in the history of humankind, fulfilling the promise of JFK, and placing the U.S. In the clear lead in the space race. It was on this day that Neil Armstrong placed the first human footstep on the lunar landscape. Six Apollo missions to explore the moon were made between 1969 and 1972 (Aerospace). This repeated success assured that the U.S. would remain the clear leader, leaving the Soviets in their lunar dust.

America was on a high that reached into outer space. When Apollo 11 (Columbia and Eagle) landed on the moon and proclaimed, "The eagle has landed," every single American had landed there too, as they huddled around their TV sets. Every American was with the astronauts on that historical day. America was superior. The success continued with Apollo 12 Yankee Clipper and Intrepid) (Kennedy Space Center). America was becoming accustomed to news about successful space missions.

Apollo 13 and Near Disaster

Then with Apollo 13 (Odyssey and Aquarius) tragedy struck that had a similar affect as the Hindenburg Disaster, or the sinking of the Titanic. America was riding high and gaining confidence in their ability to go to the moon and back. This confidence was almost the downfall of the mission.

During pre-flight testing, the No. 2 Oxygen tank demonstrated anomalies and would not empty correctly (Williams). However, officials were confident that this problem was minor, so they decided to go on with the mission as planned. They did not wish to risk the reputation of the program on an incomplete mission. The Apollo mission took off as usual and Americans were once again provided a spectacular view of their greatest heroes flying off into space. However, 56 hours into the mission something went wrong.

On April 14, 1970 Americans could do nothing but watch and pray and their heroes lives were in jeopardy. Some wires shorted in the Number 2 oxygen tank and caused an explosion (Williams). This damaged the number 1 tank and caused pieces of the interior of the service module to blow off (Williams). Attention turned from the lunar expedition to getting the astronauts home safely (Grayzeck). For the next three days Americans held their breath as Engineers tried frantically to get the astronauts home safely. On April 17, 1970, America got their wish and the astronauts retuned home safely. The mission was termed a "successful failure" because although the primary objective was never achieved, the astronauts returned home safely (Grayzeck). This mission taught American the dangers of overconfidence. After this near disaster, NASA revised and tightened preflight testing procedures to make certain that this would not happen again.

After the near disaster of Apollo 13, American needed to get quickly back on the horse and save face. This was necessary to maintain the confidence of the American people and to secure their position as a leader in the space program. Apollo 14 (Kitty Hawk and Antares) the U.S. space program was back on track. American astronauts gathered lunar rocks and brought them back to earth for analysis (Kennedy Space Center). It became an accepted fact that America could go to the moon and bring backā€¦