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"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."
–John F. Kennedy
"NASA spent millions of dollars inventing the ball- point pen so they could write in space. The Russians took a pencil."
–Will Chabot

Historical Context Edit

After the war, the United States and the Soviet Union recruited, coerced or simply kidnapped hundreds of surviving German scientists … and none so numerous as those who had worked on the Nazi rocket programs. As the Cold War heated up, space became yet another field of competition for the two superpowers as each side sought to prove the superiority of its technology (and, by extension, its political-military-economic system). At first, the intent was to be able to launch bigger versions of the German V-2 rockets, ones capable of carrying a warhead to distant cities. But soon, some slightly-mad visionaries saw a “better” use for those ballistic missiles; in 1955 AD, just four days apart, both nations separately and publically announced they would place an artificial satellite in orbit by 1957 or ’58.

The Soviets won the first leg of the space race, launching Sputnik I into orbit on October 1957; four months after, the German von Braun (who headed the American effort) and his team put Explorer I atop a four-stage Juno I in Cape Canaveral and fired it off. Over the next few years, several hapless dogs and monkeys were shot into orbit on one-way trips, all leading up to the Soviets launching Yuri Gagarin into orbit in April 1961 … who enjoyed a round-trip. Once again the Americans had lost the race by just months, with John Glenn orbiting the Earth in Friendship 7 in February 1962. When U.S. President Kennedy made his bold claim that America would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, things heated up again.

The next years were marked with some spectacular failures (exploding rockets make for great images), for both the Soviets and the Americans, but culminating with the launch of Apollo 8 in 1968, the first manned mission to orbit the moon. On 20 July 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong proclaimed “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In July 1975, with relations between Russia and America thawing, the first joint mission – the Apollo-Soyuz docking – meant the space race was over.