We all know America made it to the Moon in a heated effort to ‘beat’ the Russians in the frontier of space exploration, but who really won the so called space race? Well, there’s an interesting story behind the journey from Earth and it ultimately ends in both sides realizing that space exploration is a human endeavor and not just nationalistic.
In this lesson from TEDEd, you can see how the race to space began much earlier than even the popular Russian satellite Sputnik. German Nazis had been using V2 rockets to target countries from low-Earth orbit long before the Russians and Americans snatched the technology for their own political projects. But this doesn’t classify the Germans as the winners- the competition was only just beginning.
In a response to Sputnik’s successful and ominous launch, Eisenhower demanded the construction of the Vanguard TV3. This virgin attempt, however, went horribly. The rocket achieved an altitude of about two feet before falling back to the launch pad, exploding, and causing irreparable damage to the rocket and satellite. In the eyes of the media, this was the joke of the day. In the eyes of engineers however, this failure provided valuable information that would eventually take us dramatically farther than Earth’s orbit.
Here’s that infamous takeoff:
By this point, it seemed like the Russians were ‘winning’ by a landslide. Multiple astronauts, including Juri Gagarin, had successfully probed the outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Our closest result was John Glenn’s orbit of Earth, but even still that was only one man.
Kennedy had a different plan in mind, however. He would order the ignition of the cosmic perspective- the first manned flight to the moon. From this lunar adventure, humanity would see our planet rise above another celestial body and we would begin the impossible undertaking of understanding our significance in the cosmos. This was a massive milestone that would send the American morale soaring.
But surprisingly we still don’t have a winner! The next development of the space race would be to cool the heated Russian-American negotiations and assemble an international space station. This station, humanity’s first outpost in the void, would be called the Apollo-Soyuz Project. It would signal the anti-climactic end of the space race, but more importantly, teach humanity a lesson about the nature of space exploration. We were wrong to expect a single victorious country in the profound depths of space because all of humanity was the beneficiary.
What were once political powers in battle became, inevitably, a revolutionary transformation of the human condition. Innovation, education, and the STEM fields were given the spotlight and, for this ambitious period of time, produced for humans technology never before imagined. Some examples given in the TEDEd lesson are memory foam, freeze dried food, and the satellites that currently connect the globe.
And this legacy is what we are trying to recover still today. The short spike in funding of fields crucial to the survival of humanity displayed how invaluable science and engineering are to modern civilization.
All it took to realize this was for us to leave Earth.
- Who won the space race? (myscienceacademy.org)
- That Cold War Space Race? Some think it’s back on! (cedarlounge.wordpress.com)
- 10 Awesome Startups That Are Looking To Profit From A New Space Race (businessinsider.com)
- And Recognition for the Space Race goes to… (nixonfoundation.org)