Introduction to Manned Space Exploration

This unit is very dear to my heart. While it is interesting to study the laws which govern the Universe, it is incredibly exciting to have lived through the early years of manned space flight and the race to the moon. Since man’s last trip to the moon in 1972, space flight has been dominated by reusable spacecraft, near-orbit manned flight, and robotic missions to the planets and even beyond the orbit of Pluto. This unit will attempt to relive those heady times when man reached beyond this planet and dared to touch the moon. In 1969, the United States space engineers built a huge rocket and safely sent 3 men on a journey to the moon. Since July 20, 1969 we have lived in a world where man has set foot on the moon.

"NASA, The First 25 Years"

"These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise." With these words, my favorite television show Star Trek began, and I was quickly transported to the science fiction realm where Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones, and the rest regularly transported themselves from ship to planet, where dilithium crystals allowed the warp drive to accelerate the starship to multiple speeds of light, and where Clingons and Romulons battled for control of the galactic empire. As we watched to see how Captain Kirk would solve various dilemmas on the television, our country was experiencing growing pains during the 1960’s unlike any other in its history.

A president was assassinated, and three years later so too was his brother. The Civil Rights movement brought an awareness to the oppression of different races, but with the cost of the lives of its leaders, and riots in many cities. The paranoia of the Cold War was at its peak with bomb drills in elementary schools and nuclear arms proliferation. Our nation was in Vietnam, moving from conflict to war. The number of deaths of many young Americans steadily increased while angry protesters back in the States spoke of making love instead of war. As if this were not enough, there were internal attitude changes in America, the results of which we continue to suffer through today. Psychologists spoke against parental discipline of children and our young people soon rebelled against any form of authority. During the rise of the "peace" movement, sexual freedom and drug abuse further eroded the pillars of traditional values until most believed the slogan, "if it feels good, do it."

I often feel that our nation should have fallen apart during the decade of the 1960’s a national contest which took our hearts out of inner ache to the elation of achieving a dream. President Kennedy addressed the nation in 1962, shortly after John Glenn returned from America’s first orbital flight and challenged us all, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize the best of our energy and skills. Because that goal is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others too." Just seven years later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. I count myself so fortunate to have lived through those exciting times, and I will never forget the night of July 20, 1969 when I watched a pair of Americans walking on the surface of the moon.

I am so deeply concerned about recapturing the thrill and drama of the space race that I wish you could come to class and watch the NASA documentary video, "NASA: The First 25 Years." You watch this movie and gain a sense of the thrill we who lived during this time all shared. Since you cannot do this, and I do not know how to put the video on line, my words will have to suffice in teaching you these events and the excitement which I felt as a little boy. These astronauts were my heroes, and because my uncle had access to the flight plans of each mission, my cousin and I spent many days living vicariously in the space suits of our heroes. People like Jim Lovell, John Glenn, and Ed White were making only $17,000 in annual salary, but there was no other job in the world which I would have rather had. I want you to have a sense of wonderment which came with our race to the moon.

The Truth About The Space Race

The Space Race was driven internally by the sheer will of Sergei Korolev in Russia and Werhner Von Braun in America. Click on either image to learn more about these significant engineers. Without the leadership and vision of either man, the race would have perhaps never achieved such a rapid pace. Despite the obvious pro-American propaganda during the 1960's, the truth of the space race is that the Soviets won every aspect of it except one ... America put a man on the moon first. The Russians were the first to successfully launch a satellite into orbit, October 4, 1957, the first to put a man in space when Yuri Gagarin launched and orbited the Earth once on April 12, 1961, the first to launch a woman into space June 16, 1963, and the first to do a spacewalk, March 18, 1965. John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth February 20, 1962, so there is something for the good old USA, but it seemed like the Russians knew everything we were going to do before our astronauts tried it. Leonov, on March 18, 1965 jumped out of his craft just a few months ahead of Ed White’s famous space walk, and there is plenty of debate about whether this was just a spontaneous act or intentionally planned well in advance. The Russians were the first to put a satellite mission to the back side of the moon and take pictures. The result was the quick naming of farside features after famous Soviet and Russian scientists and politicians. They even had their moon shot rocket on the launch pad in 1969. The propaganda which flew back and forth in EACH country belittled the opponents efforts and praised their own. For an interesting look at the Russian perspective, please check out the Russian Space Program history page and especially the Soviet side of the Space Race. Sadly, the gigantic Soviet Energia moon rocket exploded in June 1969 during a test, killing over 100 people and ending the race to the moon. Instead of publicly reveling in victory, Neil Armstrong stated, "that’s one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind." The trips to the moon benefited everyone, and all now live in an age when man has walked on the moon.

Today, the major nations of the world are working jointly to build a spectacular space station and all of mankind will benefit from the scientific discoveries to come. Yet, we are no longer planning manned space flights, and it has been 29 years since anyone walked on the moon. Those short eight years from Alan Shepard’s first space flight to Neil Armstrong’s famous step are a tribute to ingenuity and technology, as much as to the resolve of a nation committed to a goal. While manned missions to other planets and moons are only dreams today, we continue to push forward with robotic crafts, including the Voyagers, Vikings, Mariners, Pioneers, and lately Galileo, Ulysses, Sojourner and Pathfinder, and Cassini. The space race was an exceedingly exciting time in my life, and it is my hope that this text captures some of those emotions for you.

Please move forward to Space Race Beginnings, or return Space Exploration Introduction, the Syllabus, or the Home page.

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