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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Space—The Final Frontier

The Space Race was on during the 1960s and the United States continued to lag behind. According to Jennings and Brewster (1998), the space race symbolized “the competitive life and death struggle” between the United States and the Soviet Union (p. 358). Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space in 1961, and the Russians then had a number of other firsts including: dual flights with two space vehicles close together in 1962, sending the first woman into space in 1963, the first multi-person mission in 1964 and the first ever floating in space in 1965.

In 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American person into space as the Mercury space flights began. The first American was actually a chimpanzee named Enos. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth aboard Friendship 7 in 1962. The United States began two-person flights in 1965 with the Gemini missions, and the first American spacewalk by Ed White, occurred that June. Early Bird, the first commercial satellite, was also launched in 1965, and Mariner missions in 1965 and 1969 sent back pictures of the Martian surface. The first unmanned lunar landings for both Soviets and Americans occurred in 1966.

In 1967, tragedy struck as Apollo I astronauts Grissom, Chaffe, and White burned to death in a tragic fire on the launch pad during a practice countdown on January 27, prior to the actual mission. The first manned Apollo flight took to the skies in October of 1968 with Apollo VII, which sent back seven live television broadcasts from space. Apollo VIII was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon on Christmas Eve and it was the first time humans saw the dark side of the moon. On May 18 of 1969, Apollo X sent back the first live color television broadcast from space, and less than two months later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. In a decade that saw so much division, this moment was one of unity, as Jennings and Brewster (1998) explain:

Child and parent, Republican and Democrat, hawk and dove, all sat together as kin, united by curiosity and wonder, and above all by their sense of awe.  Particularly for those who took the opportunity to join large outdoor public gatherings, there was the unmatchable feeling that came with breathing the night air, watching a picture transmitted across 240,000 miles, showing man—man!—bouncing and tumbling and playing like a child on the cratered surface, at the same time they could divert their eyes from the large screen and look upon the powdery sphere itself, the very one that had occupied the imaginations of poets and lovers since the beginning of time. (p. 418)

America had come from behind and fulfilled the goal that President Kennedy had set at the beginning of the decade but sadly never lived to see.


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