Space Race

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The Space Race refers to competition between the United States and the Soviet Union over space exploration during the 1950's and 1960's, often specifically to refer to the race to land on the moon. Although the Soviet Union achieved many of the important firsts, including launching the first satellite, Sputnik, and the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit, the United States eventually won the race by landing Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969. A large amount of the programs early in the space race on both sides used German engineers who were active in the Nazi Space program as they had the required knowledge in rocketry.

The Sputnik in 1957 was the greatest triumph of Soviet technology

Sputnik--the first earth satellite--was a propagandist's dream come true when it astonished the world in October 1957. There followed a series of firsts, demonstrating the superiority of the big Soviet launching missiles, which could also be used to launch nuclear weapons. The image of Yuri Gagarin, who became in 1961 the first man to orbit the earth, was made a central theme in Soviet propaganda, used to encourage the young to contribute to the building of communism as well as to enhance Khrushchev's legitimacy as he sought to distance himself from the legacy of the Stalinist past.

Key Events

Date Nation Event
October 4, 1957 Soviet Union Sputnik, the first satellite, is launched.
January 31, 1958 United States Explorer I, the US's first satellite, is launched.
October 1, 1958 United States NASA is formed.
April 12, 1961 Soviet Union Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space, orbiting once.
May 5, 1961 United States Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space.
May 25, 1961 United States John F. Kennedy gives his famous speech, challenging America to land on the moon by the end of the decade.
February 20, 1962 United States John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth.
June 16, 1963 Soviet Union Valentia Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space.
March 18, 1965 Soviet Union Alexei Leonov performs the first spacewalk.
March 23, 1965 United States First Gemini mission.
June 3, 1965 United States Ed White performs the first American spacewalk.
December 15, 1965 United States Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 perform the first space rendezvous.
February 3, 1966 Soviet Union Luna 9 becomes the first spacecraft to land on the Moon (Luna 2 had impacted, but not soft landed, in 1959.)
January 27. 1967 United States A fire ignites in the Apollo 1 capsule during a test, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.
September 15, 1968 Soviet Union Zond 5 becomes the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon and return to Earth.
December 21, 1968 United States Apollo 8 launches, becoming the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon and return to Earth.
July 20, 1969 United States Apollo 11 lands on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first men to walk on the moon.


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