Difference between revisions of "Space Race"

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Historical Roots

The Apollo Program was a reactionary political move by the USA to exceed accomplishment made by the USSR in response to their technological advances in the area of rocket technology. Neither the USA nor Russian political leaders had any formative policy for going to the moon prior to Yuri Gagarin's maiden orbit. In fact, both governments were influenced behind the scenes by space visionaries Wernher von Braun and Sergey Korolov, both of whom in turn were influenced by Robert Goddard's advances in liquid rocket technology and by Konstatin Tsiolkovsky's visions for space colonization. Wernher von Braun is the prototypical space visionary, an opportunist who used every advantage possible to facilitate advances in rocket science and technology. Sergey Korolov was an avid rocket enthusiast and was a founding member of a Russian rocket club prior to the outbreak of World War II. After being suspected of disloyalty by the Secret Police due to his interest in rocket science (which was perceived as a dangerous diversion for Russian intelligentsia), he was sent to the Siberian Gulags; yet ultimately won his freedom at the conclusion of WWII when the Russians discovered the German rocket factories at Verdunn.

Upon the conclusion of WWII, Wernher von Braun and his rocket team were smuggled into the USA by the US Army and essentially spent the next 16 years in a state of limbo. However during this time, Sergey Korolov was busy extracting technological secrets from the German rocket team that remained, using them to train his own Russian scientists, until the German team became irrelevant. However, the Soviet government and military were adamant in their opposition to putting any satellites in orbit as it was seen as a wasteful diversion of resources. Korolov, who developed an acute sensitivity to political whims, focused on developing ever more powerful rockets that could deliver ever more powerful bombs. Over the course of the years, he finally produced rockets powerful enough to send an object into orbit thus enabling the Russians to have missile technology that could strike any target on Earth. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit and the Space Race was born. Within a year, the US government concentrated its space research bodies from the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) and the US military into one space agency: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on July 29, 1958.

Since America, like Korolov, only wanted its native scientists and engineers to get the credit for their rocket advances, Wernher von Braun's team was delegated to secondary status in terms of getting funding for their rockets. When the US Air Force launched its first rocket, it exploded on the launch pad. So Wernher von Braun's team was given a chance and they built a rocket that successfully launched a rocket that could've included a second stage reaching orbit before the launch of Sputnik. However because America dragged its feet on rocket research, it only gave the rocket program the go ahead as a reaction to Sputnik.

The Space Race Begins

For a few years, the Americans thought they had parity with the Russians and that the story was over. Then on April 12, 1961, the Soviets put Yuri Gagarin, the first man in orbit. Until Yuri Gagarin's orbit, the Americans only desired parity with the Soviets. Afterwards, it seemed to the Americans that the ultimate objective for the Soviets was to conquer the moon. Thus the Space Race was born. This was significant both for its historical accomplishment and for its technological achievement in terms of having a powerful enough rocket for the task.

While the American Mercury program was under full swing and they had scheduled to put an astronaut into space during March 1961. Three weeks after Yuri Gagarin's accomplishment, the Americans sent Alan Shepard onto a sub-orbital trajectory into space aboard Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961. Another three weeks later, American President John F. Kennedy gave his State of the Union (JFK Speech), at the tail-end declaring America's intention of sending a man to the moon. What is significant about the speech is that the only person in NASA who believed in its possibility at the time was NASA's Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden, while everyone else at NASA thought that it was physically and technologically impossible, including NASA Administrator James Webb, who once quipped "Does anyone want my job?".

The American Space Program

Within a year, government funding from the US Congress came in and the US Mercury Program evolved into the Gemini Program. Project Gemini's mission goals were to demonstrate the efficacy of the physics and technology behind attempting to reach for the moon. NASA's long-term objective was to demonstrate that it could first reach Orbit, attain Orbital Rendezvous with another spacecraft, successfully complete Docking Procedures, do a Space Walk (EVA), and lastly show that human beings were physically capable of Long Duration Spaceflight. At the beginning of the space program, it was not known if any of these capabilities were technically possible.

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Space Race Comparison
Activity USSR Date USA Date
Reach Space Sputnik November 11, 1957 Explorer 1 February 1, 1958
Unmanned Orbit Sputnik ibid N/A N/A
Manned Orbit Yuri Gagarin April 12, 1961 Freedom 7 May 5, 1961
First EVA Aleksei Leonov April 18, 1965 Ed White June 3, 1965
First Rendezvous Vostok 3 & 4 August 12, 1962 Gemini 6A & 7 December 15, 1965
First Docking Cosmos 186 & 188 October 30, 1967 Gemini 8 & Agena March 16, 1966
First Lunar Object Luna 2 September 12, 1959 Ranger 4 April 23, 1962
First Sample Return Lunar 16 September 24, 1970 Apollo 11 July 24, 1969
First Unmanned Lunar Orbit Luna 10 April 3, 1966 N/A N/A
First Manned Lunar Orbit N/A N/A Apollo 8 December 24, 1968
First Lunar EVA N/A N/A Neil Armstrong July 20, 1969