People race across tracks, through the water, and even up mountains. And in the mid-1900s, two countries were in a race to space. They were the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR). Each wanted to show that it was the best at science. Most people agree that America won this race by putting two men on the Moon.
Why were the countries in a race in the first place? Well, the United States and the USSR were the two biggest superpowers in the world. And they ran their nations in very different ways. The United States was capitalist — the USSR, on the other hand, was communist. The people of each nation felt that their system of government was better.
The competition began in the 1950s after World War II had ended. These countries didn’t fight each other directly. But they did make lots of weapons. Those included missiles. Rocket science soared to new heights — and the space race was a chance for both nations to keep practicing.
The USSR got off to a hot start in the race. It launched the first satellite on October 4, 1957. Sputnik 1 was the first man-made object to fly around Earth. Machines on the ground could pick up signals from the craft, and people could see it in the night sky. Then on April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union sent the first person into space — Yuri Gagarin — whose flight lasted 108 minutes.
The United States was trailing in the race to space! NASA launched its first satellite in 1958. Then Alan Shepard became its first astronaut in May 1961. U.S. President John F. Kennedy challenged his country to do better.
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade,” Kennedy famously said in a 1962 speech in Houston, Texas. He said America would set goals in space “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Kennedy dreamed of a giant rocket that would take men to the Moon.
NASA worked to complete Kennedy’s goal before the 1960s were over. The agency’s Apollo program, which aimed to put a man on the Moon, was like few other projects in history. Thousands and thousands of people worked with one single hope. Each Apollo mission was a step forward — 1, 2, 3… and by No. 11, it was finally time to put humans on the Moon. (Apollo 11’s launch is on the cover.)
On July 20, 1969, American astronauts planted a red, white, and blue flag on the Moon’s rocky surface. That proved to the world that the United States had won. Meanwhile, an unmanned USSR craft crash-landed while Americans were still there!
Kennedy did not live to see his dream come true, but his words still live on today. “The exploration of space will go ahead,” he said in 1962. “It is one of the great adventures of all time.”
Updated July 19, 2019, 5:03 P.M. (ET)
By Ryan Cramer
Read To me