How the cold war between USA and USSR let us discover space

The USA and the USSR raced each other to send satellites into space. They both wanted to outrun one another by completing a successful space journey.
Interesting Engineering

With a hot trending talk of the times being space journeys, one might wonder how it all started- how we’ve come to this point in time, where interplanetary travel and tourism seem realistic. 

The origins of space travel can be traced to the space race between the USA and the USSR. They both wanted to one-up each other by completing a space journey. The USSR seemed to have a lead over the USA, with feats of sending the first satellite to orbit the Earth, and the first living thing to space in its belt. Remember Laika? The Soviet space dog was a trained cosmonaut and consumed food and water in a gelatinized form. 

Much to the USA’s dismay, the USSR beat them again when they managed to send the first human to space. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin reached an altitude of 203 miles (327 kilometers) and returned after orbiting the Earth in the Vostok 1 Space Capsule. This achievement prompted U.S. President John F Kennedy to point to the moon as their new target on September 12, 1962. He promised to send humans to the moon within 10 years.

Spurred on by his motivation, the Americans set upon designing a two-person space shuttle, the Gemini, and later, the three-person space shuttle Apollo. In December 1968, they demonstrated proof of this renewed spirit with the Apollo space shuttle orbiting the moon 10 times. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders became the first to leave the Earth’s orbit. 

NASA and the Americans did not have to wait further to taste more success. On July 21, 1969, Apollo 11, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins landed on the moon. Taking the first step of any human on the moon, Neil Armstrong famously said “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. America did not rest on its laurels, however. They carried on sending over 10 astronauts to the surface of the moon. 

But what about the space race between the USA and the USSR? Contrary to what you would’ve expected, both nations began working together on sending space shuttles into lunar orbit together. China, now a growing global power, set its sights on joining the space games and would eventually launch the Shenzhou 5 shuttle in 2003. 

The last 10 years have witnessed private companies make their foray into the space game. On 30th May 2020, SpaceX successfully sent a spacecraft piloted by two astronauts from the Kennedy Space Centre, USA to space. With talk about space tourism, and space habitat rife, it is just a matter of time before more private players make an entry. Perhaps we might witness the marvels of space for ourselves in this lifetime.