News / Science & Technology

After 45 Years: Space Race a Thing of the Past

45 Years Later: Space Race is a Thing of the Pasti
George Putic
July 09, 2014 5:39 PM
Forty-five years ago, two U.S. astronauts became the first humans to step on the moon. This remarkable achievement was the culmination of a fierce competition in space technology between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. VOA’s George Putic looks back at the 'Space Race' that gradually evolved into today’s cooperation.
VIDEO: The U.S. moon landing was the culmination of a fierce competition in space technology between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. VOA’s George Putic looks back at the 'Space Race' that gradually evolved into today’s astronautical cooperation.
George Putic

Forty-five years ago, two U.S. astronauts became the first humans to step on the moon, the remarkable culmination of a fierce competition in space technology between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

Beginning in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War of the 1950s, the space race was as much about politics as science, says former Russian cosmonaut and deputy director of the Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts, Alexander Laveykin.

“There was a big competition between us and America: who will launch the first space satellite? It turned out, we were the first ones," said Laveykin.

That succesful launch of man-made satellite, Sputnik 1 — a 58 centimeter metal ball with four antennae that circled the globe and transmitted a simple signal — was a bitter pill for the American public to swallow.

Less than five months later, in January 1958, the U.S. launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, which discovered the Van Allen radiation belt.

But the Soviets pulled ahead again in April 1961, when the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin took a single swing around the planet, and succesfully returned to a hero’s welcome.

One month later, the first American astronaut Alan Shepherd reached suborbital altitude and parachuted back to earth.

“On the periscope, what a beautiful view,"  said Shepherd from far above the earth. "Cloud cover over Florida, three to four tenths up the eastern coast, obscures up through Hatteras.... I'm getting ready for impact."

Growing public and political pressure prompted then-President John Kennedy to set America's sights higher: to land on the moon, says National Air and Space Museum curator Kathleen Lewis.

“On the United States side, I think there is a bit of hubris that we can do anything better," said Lewis.

Before the decade was over, on July 20, 1969, American Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the moon.

In the years that followed, the space race slowed and moved toward cooperation when in 1975 Washington and Moscow conducted the first manned rendezvous in space.

In time, the rivalry would fizzle, due to the task of building the International Space Station, the demise of Communism, and NASA’s decision to retire its shuttle fleet.

According to Kathleen Lewis of National Air and Space Museum, the current earth-bound, geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and Russia does not seem to adversely impact bilateral cooperation in space.

“You don't want to be arguing politics when you're up in a tin can 200-and-some miles [325 km] above Earth," she said. "You have nowhere to go, so you've got to focus on things that you can agree on and avoid the things that you might have disagreements on."

At the moment, the two space agencies do not have plans for greater cooperation, but their competitive space race is definitely a thing of the past.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs