Top 9 Facts About the 20th Century Space Race


Following the close of the Second World War, the most destructive collection of years we’ve ever undergone as a species, humankind decided to bond their efforts in order to achieve one higher goal. This goal was of course to get a manned aircraft out of the limits of the Earths, by this point weakened atmosphere, and into the realms of outer space. Despite working in conjunction with one another to bring down the Nazi Government of Germany during aforementioned war, two distinct superpower nations emerged as the prime frontrunners in what would soon become known as the international ‘space race’, namely the United States of America (USA) and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). With the former a leading capitalist nation and the latter a communist state, it wasn’t long before the space race extended far beyond the boundaries of healthy competition. As the onset of the ‘Cold War’ crept up on us all (is say all, I wasn’t around until several decades later…), tensions became more apparent between the two nations and soon it became evident that this race was an embodiment of so much more than having boasting rights for the rest of time. As the Cold War worsened, along with its now characteristic paranoid arms race, and as war raged in Asia, both the USA and the USSR continued unhindered with their efforts to reach space. Ending in July 1969 with the USA’s successful landing of Apollo 11 on the moon’s surface, the space race remains one of the most important incidents of the 20th century. In that spirit, here are some random facts on the subject!

 

10. Surplus Apollo Missions

 

Following the successful conclusion of the space race in the July of 1969, the US National Space and Aeronautics Administration (NASA) launched six more Apollo missions to the moon, the last of which was Apollo 17 which was launched on December 7th, 1972. Perhaps the most notable of these surplus missions was that of Apollo 13, the crew of which managed to survive an oxygen tank explosion whilst on their way to the moon.

 

9. The Ballpoint Pen Was Invented During the Space Race

Perhaps not the most exciting fact I could muster on the topic, however interesting nonetheless. After scratching their heads for a number of months, as well as spending around $1million (which back then was more a lot more than it is now) on research, expert researchers at NASA came up with the prototype for the ballpoint pen- intended to eliminate problems caused by zero-gravity conditions. Funnily enough the Soviets had a similar problem, though came up with a much more cost effective option- using a pencil.

 

8. The Russians Took an Early Lead

In October 1957, the Soviet space programme took an early lead, and in many ways signalled the true beginning to the space race when they successfully launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. This early incarnation of what would eventually become the technology upon which most modern communications are now built, was just 22 and a half inches in diameter, weighing in at relatively modest 183 pounds. In terms of instruments, the Sputnik carried only a radio transmitter designed to transmit on the 15-meter short-wave band.

 

7. Sputnik 3 Was the Size of a Moon

Maybe a little bit of an over-exaggeration in terms of literal speaking, however far from it if we consider the generational differences between Sputnik 3 and its aforementioned generational elder. Launched in the spring following the success of Sputnik 1, Sputnik 3 was a much vaster mission, in terms of size, duration and ambition. Orbiting Earth an estimation 10,000 times over 682 day period, Sputnik 3 returned to its home planet in the April of 1960. Given the satellites size for the time, sizing up and 5×11 feet and weighing in excess of a ton, Premier Khrushchev is said to have stated at the time ‘America sleeps under a Soviet moon’. I bet that did a lot to calm the escalating tension.

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