Key Events in the Space Race

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 28 September 2016

Key Events in the Space Race

The 60s were infamous for many rapidly changing aspects pertaining to different topics at the time. The subject of space was one not to be left behind. This decade would be one of the world’s golden ages of extraterrestrial research and every event during this time would be recorded into history. In a period most people know as the ‘Space Race’, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (USA) would compete for supremacy in space exploration. Most events occurred in this decade, but the period of the ‘Space Race’ itself lasted from the 1957 to 1975.

Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, was launched on October 4th, 1957 by the USSR. Sputnik itself was a polished metal sphere, 23 in. in diameter, with four external radio antennae to broadcast radio pulses. It was sent into an elliptical, low-Earth orbit and provided scientists with information. Its purpose was to measure the density and composition of the upper atmosphere, as well as measuring solar radiation, magnetic fields, cosmic rays, etc. It travelled at about 18,000 mi. per hour, taking 96. 2 minutes to complete each orbit.

Signals continued to reach Earth for 22 days until the transmitter batteries ran out of energy on October 26, 1957. Sputnik burned up on January 4, 1958 as it fell from orbit upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere. It travelled at about 43. 5 million miles and spent a total of 3 months in orbit. Although life had been sent into space before, Yuri Gagarin would be the first human to exit Earth’s atmosphere. He was born on March 9, 1934 in a small village in the Soviet Union called Klushino.

The cosmonaut boarded onto Vostok, a craft that consisted of a spherical descent module, 2. meters in diameter, which housed the astronaut, instruments, escape system, and a conical instrument module, containing propellant and the engine system. Upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the cosmonaut would eject from the craft at about 7,000 m. and descend via parachute, while the capsule would land separately. Gagarin’s mission to circle the Earth on April 12, 1961 lasted for 1 hour and 48 minutes. He was only 27 years old at the time and that was the first and last time he went into space, since he was too valued to send on a risky mission again.

Gagarin may have been the first human in space, but Alan Shepard became the first American to exit Earth’s atmosphere. He was born on November 18, 1923 in Derry, New Hampshire. Although the flight was originally scheduled for October 1960, delays by unplanned preparatory work meant that this was postponed several times, initially to March 6, 1961 and finally to May 5. On April 12, 1961, Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first person in space and to orbit the Earth. On May 5, 1961, Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 mission and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space.

The suborbital flight only lasted a mere 15 minutes, but the launch was seen live by millions. While the USSR was showering in fame and glory, ahead of the US in the ‘Space Race’, America’s President John F. Kennedy declared the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending a citizen safely to the Moon before the end of the decade on May 29, 1961. This was announced before a special joint session of Congress. This decision would soon change the world forever in 1969. The Soviet Union left the United States in the dust again when they sent Alexey Leonov, a Russian cosmonaut, to become the first human to conduct a spacewalk on March 18, 1965.

He was born on May 30, 1934 in Listvyanka, Kemerovo Oblast, USSR. His walk in space was originally to have taken place on the Vostok 11 mission, but this was cancelled, and the historic event happened on the Voskhod 2 flight instead. He was outside the spacecraft for 12 minutes and nine seconds, connected to the craft by a 5. 35 m. tether. America was humiliated once again in early 1966 as it watched the USSR successfully land the world’s first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the Moon. Luna 9 was launched on January 31, 1966 and landed on the Moon’s surface on February 3, 1966.

Its mission was to land safely on any planetary body other than Earth and to transmit photographic data back. Signals lasted for 6 days until the last transmission was sent on February 6, 1966. The spotlight was moved from the Soviet Union onto the US for once when the country launched the Apollo 11 mission, an event that would forever change history. The primary objective of Apollo 11 was to complete a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961: perform a crewed lunar landing and return to Earth.

The crew consisted of Neil Armstrong as the Commander, Michael Collins as Command Module Pilot, and Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin, Jr. as the Lunar Module Pilot. Apollo 11 was launched on July 16, 1969 and successfully landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Millions of American watched the event live on television. Armstrong set foot on the moon and declared “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. ” A few minutes later, Aldrin joined him. Together they collected soil samples and took photographs. They stayed on the moon for 21 hours.

Many experiments were tested and 22 kilograms of lunar samples were collected. On July 24, the astronauts returned home aboard the command module Columbia, landing in the Pacific Ocean. On August 13, they rode in parades in their honor in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Indeed, the time of the ‘Space Race’ is one not to be forgotten by the world. The Soviet Union and United States must be well acknowledged for all the effort spent on the study of space alone. While the USSR won some battles, the US won others. That, however, will never change the fact that they impacted the world, science, and history today.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 28 September 2016

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