Overview of the Space Race
The United States and the Soviet Union were locked in
Hello, my name's David Wilson. I'm an historian and a teacher of U.S. and World History, here today for About.com. In today's topic, we're going to be taking a look at the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union.By the 1950's, Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was in full-swing, from the arms race, fighting proxy wars in far-flung countries, to espionage and counter-espionage, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a never-ending battle for supremacy.In October of 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched the satellite Sputnik, the first man-made object to be placed in Earth's orbit, the response from the United States was one of surprise and a feeling that they were falling behind. To Americans, the long tradition of exploring the North American continent was mirrored in their efforts to explore space, and to fall behind the Soviet Union was, in many people's eyes, an unacceptable outcome.In response to Sputnik, the United States launched the satellite Explorer I in 1958. That year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created NASA, which is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This organization was designed to oversee the efforts of the United States' space exploration projects.The Soviet Union beat the United States to the punch in 1959 by sending the first probe to the moon, referred to as Luna II. And in April of 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, completing a single orbit of the Earth. On May 5th of that same year, the United States sent the first American into space, astronaut Alan Shepard, as part of the Mercury Program. That same month, President John F. Kennedy made the now famous prediction, that the United States would send a man to the Moon by the end of the 1960s.This challenge prompted NASA's Apollo Program, whose mission it was to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely. Over the next several years, NASA budgets increased by nearly 500 percent; however, in January of 1967 the Apollo Program suffered a major setback when three astronauts were killed in a test when their capsule caught fire on the launchpad. The project got back on track, and in December of 1968, Apollo 8 sent the first astronauts to orbit the moon. Less than a year later on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. With this impressive feat, the United States fulfilled President Kennedy's challenge at the beginning of the decade and effectively won the Space Race.Thanks for watching. To learn more, visit us on the web at About.com.