In 1964, Frank Sinatra sang his version of “Fly Me to the Moon”. Five years later, it was a reality. Not for Frank Sinatra of course.
“The Eagle has Landed” were the first words said by the man who made it into every history book – Neil Armstrong. In 1969, the Apollo 11 lunar module successfully landed on the Moon. But Apollo 11 wasn’t the only mission that happened; there were five more. All of which took place within a span of nine years. Six missions, nine years. But what was the hurry? You have presumably heard of Yuri Gagarin, Sputnik 1 and the Atomic Age. But how do they make their way into the picture?
We all know that the Apollo 11 landing took place in 1969. But we may not know that it was President John F Kennedy’s mission for the USA to land their men on the Moon within that decade. All of this comes into play when we mention the Cold War. The war between the Communists and the Capitalists changed the timeline completely. If the Cold War never took place, there would be no advances and innovation in technology, for a while at least. Although the Cold War began in 1947, the Space Race did not occur until 1955. This was the intense competition between both countries to progress in the field of aerospace. This includes artificial satellites, unmanned space probes and human spaceflight. In 1955, both countries announced that they would launch satellites to orbit the Earth within two-three years. NASA, the same NASA that some of you may aspire to work at, was established in 1957. It was a sign that the US was determined to win the Space Race. Neil Armstrong, Saturn V, Apollo missions and a lot more were all creations of the Cold War.
The worry about getting a satellite in space was that it had the potential to be used as a weapon. A nuclear weapon. However, it was nothing to worry about. There was a law, The Outer Space Treaty, dedicated to the banning of weapons in space. Eventually, the Soviets rose above and completed Sputnik 1, the first ever artificial satellite, in 1957. This put the US way behind in the game and in danger of Russia’s technological rises. This lead to the Sputnik Crisis, where President Eisenhower reached a decision to give more importance to winning the Space Race. The political pressure between these two states led to the birth of NASA. Another remarkable achievement had come about for the Soviets – sending the first man into Space. Yuri Gagarin. In 1961, he orbited Earth in the spacecraft, Vostok 1.
At this point, the US realised that they were lagging behind, which lead to the launch of Freedom 7, making Alan Shepard the first American in space. Once again, the Soviets made it to the lead when they sent Valentina Tereshkova in Vostok VI, the first woman in space. Naturally, at this point, America felt threatened and put in more resources towards NASA to ultimately send their men to the Moon.
Later, the Gemini program was introduced, after the success of the Mercury programs. The intent of the Gemini program was to send two astronauts into space rather than one. Here’s a small bit of trivia: the mission is called Gemini, after the constellation because its capsule would carry two astronauts. One of the memorable Gemini missions was Gemini IV where Ed White became America’s first spacewalker. Just like the ISS was the key to Mars, Gemini was the key to the Moon. The purpose of Gemini was for testing long-duration flight, for docking in orbit and to perfect re-entry. This win proved that the US was ready for the Apollo missions to take place and a lot more. It was this notable progress that resulted in the technology behind today’s ISS. Their perseverance finally resulted in the Moon landing in the Summer of ’69. For those of you that have watched or heard about the movie Hidden Figures, you should know that those women were the brains behind the Space Race.
By 1975, things started to cool down, and both countries decided on the policy of Detente, a joint space flight: The Apollo -Soyuz Test Project. This collaboration brought upon the end of the Space Race.
Here’s some food for thought. The song mentioned in the beginning, “Fly me to the Moon”, was largely associated with the Apollo missions. It was actually, the first song to be heard on the Moon. “So In Other Words”, Frank Sinatra was a genius!
Keep in mind, all the progress in space research is majorly due to the Cold War. Scientific progress came about because the US and the USSR were trying to outdo each other. The Cold War was never a barrier for the Moon landing or NASA, it just happened to be the catalyst for their creation. We would’ve surely seen all this development occur, but only at a later stage.
For Alice to reach Wonderland, she had to fall pretty hard, down a deep hole. Basically, this is a way of saying that even with all the chaos and tragedy, we all got something good out of it.