The Space Race

“1 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.”

President Kennedy’s proposal in May 1961 that the United States should send a man to the moon was eagerly welcomed by politicians and the American people. Soon work had begun on the Apollo program, as the project was named.

The Apollo program was another move in the “space race” between the United States and the Soviet Union. The costs of this race were enor­mous. But there were two important reasons why both the Americans and the Russians were willing to pay them. First, there was the question of international prestige-of gaining the respect of the rest of the world by achieving something calling for immense scientific and technical skill. Secondly, both Americans and Russians felt that to let the other side get too far ahead in space technology would endanger their security. Earth­orbiting satellites could be used to take spy photographs. More frightening still, rockets cap­able of carrying people into space could also be used to carry nuclear warheads.

Up to the mid-1960s each side matched the other’s achievements in the space race. But then the Americans started to draw’ ahead. Finally, they w’ere ready for the mission to put the first men on the moon —Apollo 11.

Thc Apollo 11 spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral on the coast of Florida, it carried three men as its crew— Neil Armstrong. Edward “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. The first two would

necessary they would drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union and China. By the mid-1950s the United States had a powerful force of nuclear bombers ready to do this. On airfields all round the w’orld giant American planes were constantly on the alert, ready to take off at a moment’s notice.

Most Americans supported Dulles’s massive retaliation policy at first. Then, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union sent into space the w’orld’s first


:W/ Літгігон# on the moan.

pilot the section of the spacecraft that would actually land on the moon’s surface, the lunar module. Collins had the job of circling the moon in the other section of the spacecraft, the command module, waiting for their return.

The final countdown started five days before blast off. At last, on July 16, 1969, burning 4’/2 tons of fuel a second, a huge 5,000 ton rocket rose slowly from its launching pad on a roaring column of flame. Five days later millions of television view’ers all over the world watched Armstrong and Aldrin step down on to the surface of the moon.

The two men spent three hours collecting rock samples and setting up scientific instruments on the moon’s surface to send information back to earth after they left. Then they rejoined Collins in the command module. Three days later they splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean and helicopters carried them off to a heroes’ welcome.

earth satellite, the Sputnik. Sputnik did not worry the Americans. But the rocket that carried it into space did. A rocket powerful enough to do that could also carry an I I-bomb to its target.

‘The American government began to speed up work on rockets of its own. Soon it had a whole range of bomb-carrying rockets called “nuclear missiles.”

The biggest were the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles. These were kept in underground forts all

over the United States, ready to carry their deadly warheads far into the Soviet Union. The Polaris, another missile, was carried by nuclcar-powcrcd submarines cruising deep beneath the oceans.

By the end of the 1950s the United States and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear missiles to kill everybody on earth. It is not surprising that people spoke of a “balance of terror.” Both Russian and American leaders came to sec that in a full-scale war between their two countries there could be no winner. They would simply destroy one another.

Nikita Khrushchev, the man who took Stalin’s place as leader of the Soviet Union, realized this. He once said that capitalist and communist countries would only really agree “when shrimps learned to whistle.” But in a world of 1 І-bombs he believed that they had to try to live peacefully, side by side. In place of Cold War threats he suggested “peaceful coexistence.”

President Eisenhower welcomed Khrushchev’s talk of peaceful coexistence. He invited the Soviet leader to visit the United States. Afterwards the two men agreed to hold a summit meeting in Paris to work out solutions to some of their differences.

The Paris summit never even started. As the leaders were on their way there in May I960, a Russian missile shot down an American aircraft over the Soviet Union. The aircraft was a U-2 spy plane, specially designed to take photographs of military targets from the edge of space. Krushchev angrily accused Eisenhower of planning for war while talking peace. He went angrily back to the Soviet Union. He seemed to be furious. But maybe he was rather pleased at having made the Americans look like hypocrites. In any case, the Paris summit meeting was over before it even started.

Updated: 18th July 2015 — 3:17 pm