My topic: The Space Race, How the U.S. Went From #2 to #1 in 12 Years. After the shock of the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the American public demanded change. After WWII the United States was the most powerful nation in the world. We did not like being second. Changes were made in education. More emphasis was put on science and math. NASA was created to get the U.S. back to #1. The space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union created a revolution in thinking about space and about life here on earth.


     The space race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. began in 1957and ended in1969.Broadcasts were interrupted in the U.S. on Oct. 4th on all radio stations. Americans were told to” listen now to the sound that forever separates the old from the new.”  That sound was a beep.  It was coming from a soviet satellite, Sputnik. The reaction of Jacqueline Johnson of St. Louis was pretty typical of most American’s .  “I remember being excited on one hand and kind of scared on the other.  We thought that if the Russians could send a missile into space, they might be capable of aiming something deadly at the U.S.” She also commented on changes in schools, “ Almost immediately the schools started a real push to bring more math and science to a prominent place in all student schedules.”

     At first the United States was unsuccessful.  The explosion of the Vanguard rocket was an embarrassment: however, on January 31, 1958 Explorer I was launched.  Unfortunately the Soviets were still ahead and in July of 1958 NASA  was created to help us catch up. 

     Prior to humans being sent into orbit, both the United States and the Soviets experimented with sending animals up in rockets to learn how they did.  On  April 12, 1961 the Russians  moved ahead again when they successfully launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the earth.  Jacqueline Johnson remembers this occurrence this way  “He became a hero around the world, even her in this country.  I think many people admired the accomplishment on a persona level---the bravery that it must have taken for him to fly higher than anyone had ever gone.”  The U.S. was sending men into sub-orbital flights at this time.  Alan Shepard was the first American sent up.

     When John F. Kennedy was elected President, he made a vow that, “ 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.”  Shortly after making this pledge, the first American, John Glenn, orbited the earth.

     Now this was becoming a real race to see who could get to the moon first.  In 1965 both the U.S. and the Soviets were making space walks to see how men could operate outside outside their vehicles.  In 1966 and unmanned Soviet space craft orbited the moon.

     One of the most memorable accomplishments of the United States was in December  of 1968.  That was when the crew of Apollo 8 orbited the moon and took memorable pictures of the Earth .  According to Mary Ann Muirhead, 1968 had been a year of riots and turbulence in America.  The pictures and scripture readings from Apollo 8 seemed to save a year that really needed saving.

     All America and most of the world cheered on July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped off the Eagle and announced to the world, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  The race was over.  The Soviets never went to the moon.  To this day the only footprints on it belong to Americans.

     People sometimes ask if the space program was worth all the money invested.  Here are a few of the ways this race has helped the average person: scratch resistant lenses, freeze dried foods, foamless toothpaste, programmable pace maker and more! Click here for more great ways this race helped us.