The Space Race

Photo depicting a man and an American flag on the moon.
The Soviet satelite Sputnik 1 in orbit around Earth.
President John F. Kennedy laying out the goal of landing a man on the moon.

During the 1950s and 60s, the Americans weren’t only scared of Soviet spies and a Soviet-backed communist coup d’état in Washington. They were also afraid that the Soviet Union would embarrass the United States by winning the ongoing Space Race. This was because, by the early 1960s, the Soviets had already been first to launch a satellite into orbit around Earth and sent the first man to space. The U.S., therefore, needed a major space exploration achievement to surpass their Cold War adversary.

Committed to trumping the Soviets, in 1961, U.S. President John F Kennedy made a bold commitment. In a speech before the Congress, and later to the American people, he laid out the goal of landing a man on the moon before the decade was out. The president’s ambitious goal thereafter became a practical plan, and NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was tasked with developing technical solutions and carrying the operation out.

Neil Armstrong announcing moon landing

NASA soon got underway with preparations, and in July of 1969 saw the launch of their spacecraft Apollo 11 into space. A few days later, American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s famous words “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankindwere transmitted, and everybody knew what they signified. The transmission announced to the world that Armstrong had stepped on the moon’s surface and that NASA had succeeded. This meant that the United States could now celebrate having successfully landed people on the moon, something that the USSR would never be able to achieve. The 1969 triumph, as a result, ultimately, won the Space Race for the United States.