Space Race


"In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth"
(Genesis, 1:1). Notice how the "Heavens" were created
first. Hence, it has been around the longest, yet before
the middle of the 20th Century, we knew very little about
it. It is very difficult to study an environment that
cannot be reached. That predicament, however, would no
longer be an issue because of the significant contributions
of three people: Magnus von Braun, Wernher von Braun, and
Robert Goddard. Robert Goddard, known as the "Father of
American Rocketry," became interested in rockets while a
physics student at Clark University in 1899. He wrote a
paper in 1919 entitled A Method of Reaching Extreme
Altitudes, in which he presented the mathematical equations
that computed the necessary rocket power to get from the
Earth to the Moon. Nobody took interest in this, and he was
characterized as an obsessed inventor by the rest of the
scientific community. However, he continued in his course
of study, and on May 16, 1926, he launched the world's
first rocket with a liquid propulsion system. In front of a
gathering of scientists, Goddard sent up a rocket in New
Mexico that had its own revolutionary steering system using
a gyroscope and the vanes of the exhaust system. It rose to
4,800 feet, changed direction under perfect control, and
came back to earth after another three miles of flight,
reaching speeds in excess of 550 miles per hour. His
experiments provided useful information for Gustav
Guellich, a German spy in the United States. When Hitler
came into power a few years later, Guellich was called upon
to provide information about America's rocketry research
for the Nazi's own rocket development. Magnus von Braun
was the head of the German development of V-2 rockets. They
were the world's first remotely controlled missiles. With
the information about Goddard's rockets, von Braun was able
to complete his research and use these missiles during
World War II. His brother, Wernher von Braun, was also a
leading developer in the V-2 program. (Breuer, 12) As the
war drew to a close, both the US and Russian governments
knew that scientists, such as the von Braun brothers, would
be highly productive assets to them. Therefore, the United
States formed Operation Paperclip, whose aim was to recruit
the V-2 specialists after the war before the Russian Army
scientists could get to them. Because of our system of
government, many of the Germans preferred to be captured by
the US Army; they felt that the Russian's Communistic way
of life would hinder their opportunities that a democracy
such as America could promulgate. Magnus von Braun
surrendered himself, along with 500 V-2 technicians, over a
ton of V-2 research documents and design plans, and
thousands of V-2 rocket parts to a US Army private. The
most prized possession from that surrender was Wernher von
Braun. He became the single most important individual in
America's space program for the next forty years. (Newton,
21) Despite the apparent advantage the United States had
over the Russians because of their capture of the von Braun
brothers, it was the Soviet Union that would take the first
steps towards space. On October 4, 1957, the world's first
satellite was launched deep within Russia at the Soviet
spaceflight center located at Tyuratam. It was called
Sputnik, the Russian word for "traveler." It did very
little besides orbit the Earth and beep every few seconds.
(Shepard, 41) It completed one orbit every 96 minutes, and
each time, it passed over a new part of the planet
spreading its message to almost every part of the world.
This took the world by surprise. Russia was thought of as a
"backward, agricultural society," so how could they be so
far ahead of everyone else? (Newton, 12) Many skeptics
called the whole episode a hoax and that Sputnik did not
ever exist. Others claimed that Russia was only able to
accomplish this after many unsuccessful launches that they
did not report or that it was only because of the captured
V-2 scientists that they were ahead of the United States.
Nonetheless, what the Russians accomplished was
extraordinary, and it was something that they had been
working on for a long time. (Newton, 13) Dating back to
1903, Russia was interested in exploring space. Konstantin
Tsiolkovsky, the founding father of Soviet space research,
came up with the formula for keeping a satellite in orbit.
He also designed a rocket that would use liquid oxygen and
hydrogen as fuel. After World War II, Russia was able to
capture many V-2 technicians while the United States got
the majority of the upper-level scientists. The Russian
Army hauled them, as well as a few intact V-2 rockets and
many V-2 plans, back to the Soviet Union. (Newton, 13)
 While the United States was concentrating its efforts on
nuclear weapons and rockets designed to carry them (nuclear
warhead weighed significantly less than traditional
warheads), Russia stayed with more conventional weapons and
had to design large, powerful rockets that would be able to
hit the United States from deep within the Soviet Union.
It was because of these ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic
Missiles) that Russia had a big advantage over the US in
the race for space. These ICBMs had to be very powerful to
carry Russia's heavier payload, so they could reach space
more easily than America's "more advanced" and smaller
rockets. Despite all of this, many people still doubted
Russia's commitment to space travel. Therefore, Russia put
its money where its mouth was and launched Sputnik 2 just
one month after its older sister hit orbit. It was not only
much larger than the original, but it proved that
technology could allow for humans to eventually survive in
space, as Sputnik 2 carried the first living organism ever
into space: a dog named Laika. Vital data about the dog was
recorded for the first seven days of the flight, after
which no one knows exactly what happened to the animal.
Apparently, no rescue plans were ever made to attempt to
recover her, so she was either poisoned after the week of
experiments or died from lack of oxygen sometime
thereafter. These launches not only caused hatred and envy
of the Russians by Americans, but fear as well. People in
the United States were afraid that the Russians could
attack them from space, and they began to doubt their own
military for allowing this possibility to even occur. The
Russians used their early success as propaganda for
Communism. According to Mstislav Keldysh, the president of
the USSR Academy of Sciences: "The most advanced social
system, [that which] merged science to communism into one
whole, creates the most favorable conditions for material
and intellectual progress.... [A]rmed with revolutionary
Marxist-Leninist theory... [the Soviet Union] has taken a
leading position in some very important scientific fields.
A clear example of the development level of Soviet science
and engineering are the successes achieved in space
exploration..." (Newton, 15) They felt that their successes
in the space program proved that Communism was a superior
form of government. Premier Nikita Khruschev tried to
further emphasize this: "[Capitalist statesmen] used to
make fun of us, saying that we Russians were running about
in bark sandals and lapping up cabbage soup with those
sandals... Then, suddenly, you understand those who they
thought lapped up cabbage soup with bark sandals go into
outer space earlier than the so-called civilized ones"
(Newton, 16). The Americans were concerned because of the
launches of two Sputniks, but the fact that all of their
own rockets failed upset them even more. On December 5,
1957, the United States tried to "save face" by launching
Vanguard TV-3, a smaller yet technologically superior
satellite to the two Sputniks currently in orbit. However,
in front of reporters from across the country and world,
the rocket dramatically rose about 1 meter off the launch
pad before exploding in flames and crashing back down to
earth. To add insult to injury, a Russian UN delegate asked
his American counterpart if the Soviets could help the
United States' space program under its Aid to
Underdeveloped Nations program. (Newton, 19). The biggest
disadvantage the United States had was that all three
branches of their military were working on three separate
rockets at the same time; in Russia, all of the armed
forces came together and collaborated their manpower and
knowledge to build one single type of rocket. Von Braun
worked with the Army, and they were responsible for
developing the Orbiter program, which used an upgraded Army
Redstone rocket. The highly unsuccessful Vanguard TV-3 was
developed under the Navy's Vanguard Project. They used a
less powerful rocket for propulsion: an updated Viking
rocket. However, they used a more sophisticated satellite.
The Air Force had the most powerful rocket, the Atlas ICBM,
but it was not nearly as far into development as were the
other two projects. The Stewart Committee was assembled to
choose which department of the armed forces would launch
their satellite first. They chose the Vanguard. They chose
poorly. One might think that the Vanguard team learned
from their first mistake. They didn't. On their second
launch attempt, approximately three months after the first,
the rocket lifted off the launchpad, and seemed to be
heading off to a successful start. Suddenly, the rocket
changed course and had to be destroyed only 57 seconds into
flight. The entire project was a failure, although they did
eventually launch three satellites into orbit within the
next few years. Dr. von Braun was asked to finish work on
his Orbiter program. As a result of his participation, they
had the United States' first satellite ready for launch
within three months. This satellite was superior to the
Sputniks in almost every way. Named Explorer 1, this
satellite was only 5% of the weight of Sputnik 1 and less
than 1% of the weight of Sputnik 2. The first Russian
satellite beeped and recorded some data that was never
used, and the second had life-support equipment and more
data recorders. Explorer 1 had a few very important
instruments. Mainly, there was a Geiger-counter, for the
measuring of radiation. It was launched successfully on
January 31, 1958. Within a few days of being placed into
orbit, the first discovery, as a direct result of the space
programs, was made. The readings from the Geiger-counter
indicated belts of radiation around the earth. These Van
Allen Belts were named for the man who placed the
Geiger-counter inside the satellite, Dr. James A. Van
Allen. (Shepard, 48) The space race had now truly begun.
 The United States quickly launched their second satellite
into orbit. To everyone's surprise, a Vanguard rocket was
used! The satellite, Vanguard 1, measured the shape of the
earth. The US learned from this that the Earth was actually
pear-shaped, not spherical. Many more important satellites
were launched within the next few years. Russia had the
first satellite to escape Earth's gravity with Luna 1 on
January 2, 1959. It was set on course to strike the moon,
but missed by only about 3,700 miles (a very small distance
relative to space). On February 17, the United States
countered with their own first with Vanguard 2, which had
the first photograph of the earth from space. Pioneer 4 was
then sent to do a fly-by of the moon on March 3, 1959. We
got our first television images from space from a US
satellite, Explorer 6, which was launched on August 7,
1959. The Russians struck the moon's surface with Luna 2
after being launched on September 13, 1959. However, it did
not record any data about the experience, so the USSR was
determined to place a piece of machinery directly on the
lunar surface. After many failures, they finally succeeded.
Luna 9 became the first human-fabricated object to make a
soft landing on the moon on February 3, 1966. The United
States was very busy working on making their satellites
technological wonders. The world's first weather satellite,
TIROS 1, was launched on April 1, 1960, and followed only
twelve days later with Transit 1B, the first successful
navigation satellite. The world now believed that the
United States was much more sophisticated than the Russians
were, and that belief was strengthened on August 12, 1960
with the launch of Echo 1, the world's first communications
satellite. It seemed as if the US might be the dominant
nation in Space Age. (Newton, 130) The United States now
wanted to be the first nation to put a man into space. They
formed the Mercury Seven, a selection of seven men chosen
out of hundreds of candidates. These men were to represent
America and all it stood for. The press and the American
public worshipped them. They were the most physically and
mentally fit individuals NASA (the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration) could find. Alan Shepard, Gus
Grissom, John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, Scott
Carpenter, and Deke Slayton made up the Mercury Seven. The
three leading candidates for the first human flight were
Shepard, Grissom, and Glenn, while the others were
basically pushed aside as "secondary" astronauts. (Shepard,
79). Shepard was later chosen to be the first man to sit on
top of that huge Redstone rocket, which was to carry him
into sub-orbital flight. This caused some internal strife
among the other six Mercury astronauts, but they were
quickly silenced when told by the head of NASA that Shepard
was his decision, and that his decision was final. What the
astronauts were not told until later was that although
Shepard would be the first human in space, he would be
preceded by a primate. Monkeys were being trained to
"operate" space vehicles, and one was eventually chosen to
be the first. Dubbed "Ham," this chimp was blasted off into
space on January 31st, 1961. The flight was not as
successful as anticipated. The takeoff didn't go as
planned, the instruments malfunctioned, the lights inside
the capsule didn't work correctly, the landing location was
off by a few hundred miles, and the chimp was bounced
around the tiny capsule the whole time. However, it was
still a positive sign that there was a realistic
possibility that America was capable of sending the first
human into space. (Shepard, 90) That dream was crushed,
however, on April 12, 1961. An enormous SS-6 Russian ICBM
hurled Yuri A. Gagarin into space and into history. The
Vostok 1 capsule took him around the earth only once in
just 89 minutes. The Russians had beaten the United States
into space. Unfortunately, Shepard was scheduled to go up
on March 27, 1961, but complications caused the launch to
be postponed until May 5. Gagarin was given royal treatment
back in Russia. He was given ticker-tape parades down the
main streets in Moscow and many other big Russian cities.
Reporters from around the world asked him all sorts of
questions about weightlessness, being the first man in
space, and just about everything else relating to his
experience. (Breuer, 162) In the meantime, the Mercury
Seven were very tense about their upcoming launch. What
plagued their minds the most was the terrible fear that the
Russians had succeeded and the US would not be second, but
fail completely. Those fears were put to rest at 9:34 AM on
May 5, 1961, when Alan Shepard was pushed down into his
cockpit seat of Freedom 7 atop a fiery Redstone rocket that
was carrying not only this man, but his entire nation, into
the Space Age. It was a short flight, lasting less than 20
minutes, and it covered only a fraction of the distance of
Gagarin in his Vostok 1 spacecraft. (Shepard, 116) America
was now on the same playing field with the Russians, and
everything remained fairly even for the next nine years.
President John F. Kennedy challenged the US space program
with a new goal on May 25, 1961: "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 earth. No single space project in
this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more
important for the long-range exploration of space; and none
will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
(Anderson, 28) The Mercury Program was now scrapped after
only a few flights, and the Gemini Program was instituted.
Its goal was to test man's ability to be in outer space for
extended periods of time. The Gemini capsules were also
capable of holding two men, as opposed to the Mercury's
one. After 12 flights, that program was also ended in favor
of the Apollo Program, which was designed to take man to
the moon. This three-person capsule first took flight on
October 11, 1968 with Apollo 7. On March 27 of the
following year, Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft
to complete circumlunar (around the moon) flight. Then, on
July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael
Collins blasted-off in Apollo 11 en route to the moon that
has orbited our planet for the past two to three billion
years. After four days of travel, Buzz Aldrin and Neil
Armstrong lowered themselves into the lunar landing module,
which they had named Eagle, and started their descent to
the moon. After some redirection to avoid landing in the
center of a crater, the Eagle made a soft landing on the
lunar surface. Six hours later, Neil Armstrong became the
first man to set foot on the moon. Mission Control in
Houston heard him say: "That's one small step for man, one
giant leap for mankind!" President Kennedy's dream had been
reached, but no man could be as ecstatic as was Wernher von
Braun. He was at Mission Control that day, and he got tears
in his eyes as Armstrong prepared to take his step into
history. Von Braun was responsible for the Saturn 5 rocket
that brought America to the moon. It had always been a
boyhood dream of his to reach the moon, but this was not a
feat he could have accomplished by himself. It took two
nations over 10 years of fierce competition to finally get
a man to the moon, and that was just the beginning. The
Russians and Americans experimented with keeping astronauts
in orbit for months at a time during the 70's, and with the
Russian launch of Space Station Mir in 1985, we knew that
we were finally in space, and we were there to stay. Over
12 years later, Mir is still a functioning space station
with both astronauts and cosmonauts living together in it.
Construction for the new International Space Station will
begin in 1998 should be complete by 2002.
( Plans are also in place to have
humans on the planet Mars by 2009. Cooperation, not
competition, will help write the next chapters in man's
quest to reach the heavens. 
Anderson, Frank W., Jr. Orders of Magnitude. Washington,
D.C.: NASA, 1981.
Breuer, William B. Race to the Moon, America's Duel with
the Soviets. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1993.
God. The Bible. Volume 1: Genesis. Mt. Sinai, Egypt: Moses
Publications, 0.
Newton, David E. U.S. and Soviet Space Programs, A
Comparison. New York: Franklin Watts, 1988.
Shepard, Alan and Deke Slayton. Moon Shot, The Inside Story
of America's Race to the Moon. Atlanta: Turner, 1994.
"International Space Station Web." Assembly Sequence. May, 1997).
Please note: The form I found that describes the appropiate
usage of World Wide Web pages in a bibliography is located
at , and is called
"Beyond the MLA Handbook." Following is a direct quote form
that page on how to correctly place a Web page in a
"To cite files available for viewing/downloading via the
World Wide Web, give the author's name (if known), the full
title of the work in quotation marks, the title of the
complete work if applicable in italics, the full http
address, and the date of visit."

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