The Soviet Union launches Voskhod 1 into orbit around Earth, with cosmonauts Vladamir Komarov, Konstantin Feoktistov, and Boris Yegorov aboard. Voskhod 1 was the first spacecraft to carry a multi-person crew, and the two-day mission was also the first flight performed without space suits.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. space program consistently trailed the Soviet program in space firsts, a pattern that drastically shifted with the triumph of the U.S. lunar program in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
READ MORE: The Space Race
"I believe that [Apollo program director George Low] certainly was concerned, and rightly so, that we could have orbited the moon ahead of the Americans. We had everything for it. That is why he changed things around so quickly. Instead of orbiting the Earth, he decided to fly directly [to the moon]. We could have done it six months earlier. He had very good information. He did not think that [Soyuz design bureau chief Vasily] Mishin would be so cautious and indecisive." — cosmonaut Alexei Leonov
Peter Gorin. NASA.
The Space Race was a battle in the Cold War, a technological battle fought by Soviet and American scientists and engineers, and by Soviet cosmonauts and American astronauts. Though it was intellectual in nature, it was a battle in which every loss of life on either side was mourned by all participants.
A Real Enemy
On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik. Americans feared the implications of the first man-made satellite orbiting above the Earth. Astronaut Frank Borman recalled, "I was teaching at West Point when Sputnik was announced. . The Cold War was a very real thing and there was a very great concern of a nuclear exchange and all of a sudden this country that was our real enemy had jumped the gun and launched a satellite, and it was an enormous impact. The [American] public began to question our educational system, they questioned the Eisenhower administration. It was a time of very, very serious self-doubt across the whole society."
Soviets Advance Undercover
The Soviets continued to advance a manned space program while the Americans struggled to catch up. In Borman's view, "they beat us to the punch first off. Yuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit . they beat us to a space walk . the first woman in space, the first multiple crew in space." The Soviets kept their program under wraps, announcing each success only after it happened.
Yuri Gagarin. NASA
Crash Landings and Turtles
Soon after Sputnik, the Soviets turned their attention to the moon. Unmanned probes were launched at the moon in 1958. By 1959, Luna 2 crash-landed on the moon — the first man-made object on the lunar surface — and by October of that year a third probe circled around and photographed the far side of the moon. In September 1968 the fifth mission of the Zond spacecraft carried turtles on a circumnavigation of the moon and back to Earth. The next step would be a manned mission around the moon.
A Cosmonaut's Defense
Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first man to walk in space. In 1967 he was recruited to train for his nation's lunar program. He recalled the Soviet reaction to the moon race: "Our people were convinced that we would be the first to land on the moon because they were used to the fact that we were always the first, the first, the first. Only we, the cosmonauts, and especially the moon crew, understood that this was not going to happen. It was not character it was funding that played a role here. We knew that the U.S. had invested $25 billion. We had invested 2.5 billion rubles in the entire space program, for both manned and unmanned flights. This was ten times less. The moon crew understood that we had a capability to circumnavigate the moon six months earlier than Frank Borman, but we knew that we would not be able to land on the moon ahead of the astronauts."
Although a lunar landing was far out of reach, the cosmonauts were ready to fly to the moon and back, a voyage that would be a decisive victory in the Space Race. But their administrators faltered at the challenge. Cosmonaut Leonov blames the chief designer: "Certainly, it was only the indecisiveness of our chief designer at the time, Vasily Pavlovich Mishin, that caused us to fall behind in this program. I can say with complete confidence that if [chief designer for spacecraft] Sergei Pavlovich Korolev were alive, we would have flown around the moon six months ahead of Apollo 8."
Failures Bred Caution
Soyuz design bureau chief Vasily Mishin may have been hesitant due to previous mission failures. Just as the Apollo program had, the Soviet space program experienced a major setback due to a fatality. Soyuz One had taken off on April 23, 1967, with Vladimir Komarov aboard. Upon reentry, Komarov was killed when the parachutes on his spaceship did not deploy properly.
Taking on a Challenge
While the Soviets dithered, reports of their technology spurred NASA administrators to change Appollo 8's mission plan to a lunar orbit. The decision gave the engineers, flight controllers, and astronauts only four months to prepare for the new mission. By the end of 1968, Apollo 8 had accomplished the task set by the agency.
Leonov recalled the reaction in the Soviet Union: "There were lots of letters addressed to the government, all of which asked how it could have happened, how come Americans were ahead of us. There were lots of letters that condemned the government's inaction and accused our chief designers of losing such a great opportunity and giving it away to the Americans. This was open dissatisfaction."
Astronaut Jim Lovell has since discussed the race to the moon with his former competitors. "We talk to our Russian friends now and the cosmonauts. They admit now that Apollo 8 was really a blow to their psyche, I guess, a blow to their prestige that we were able to go around the moon when we did, because they were so close. Their Lunar Module vehicle, the N1, obviously was a failure. They knew they couldn't land on the moon first, but they thought they had a very good chance of at least circumnavigating the moon before Apollo 8. And I think one of the failures, the leadership failures, at that time especially in the Soviet space activity was the vacillation back and forth of 'Should we do it now, or should we wait and do another unmanned and to make sure that we can accomplish this mission?' Then they were very cautious people.
Cold War Battlefronts
Frank Borman shared his view of Apollo's impact: "In my estimation there were three [Cold War] battles. One was Korea. We tied it. One was Vietnam. We lost it. And one was the space program and we won it! And I think that the demonstration of the American technology, American management capability -- people overlook the fact that the management techniques that were developed in Apollo are extremely important to this country. So, I think that the Apollo was probably worth it for that reason alone."
Pre-war efforts Edit
The theory of space exploration had a solid basis in the Russian Empire before the First World War with the writings of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), who published pioneering papers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and in 1929 introduced the concept of the multistaged rocket. Practical aspects built on early experiments carried out by members of the reactive propulsion study group, GIRD (founded in 1931) in the 1920s and 1930s, where such pioneers as Ukrainian engineer Sergey Korolev—who dreamed of traveling to Mars  : 5 —and the Baltic German engineer Friedrich Zander worked. On August 18, 1933, GIRD launched the first Soviet liquid-fueled rocket Gird-09,  and on November 25, 1933, the first hybrid-fueled rocket GIRD-X. In 1940-41 another advance in the reactive propulsion field took place: the development and serial production of the Katyusha  multiple rocket launcher.
The Germans Edit
During the 1930s Soviet rocket technology was comparable to Germany's, but Joseph Stalin's Great Purge severely damaged its progress. Many leading engineers were exiled, and Korolev and others were imprisoned in the Gulag.  : 10–14 Although the Katyusha was very effective on the Eastern Front during World War II, the advanced state of the German rocket program amazed Soviet engineers who inspected its remains at Peenemünde and Mittelwerk after the end of the war in Europe. The Americans had secretly moved most leading German scientists and 100 V-2 rockets to the United States in Operation Paperclip, but the Soviet program greatly benefited from captured German manufacturing tools obtained from the V-2 production sites Mittelwerk in Eastern Germany.  : 20,25,27,29–31,56 From July 1945, the Soviets conscripted German scientists and workers for the Institut Nordhausen in Bleicherode to reestablish the lost design drawings and engineering data and to restore the manufacturing and assembly of V-2 components in Germany. This operation was set up by Dimitri Ustinov, Sergei Korolev, Valentin Glushko, and Boris Chertok.  Helmut Gröttrup, a notable expert of control systems from Peenemünde, was appointed general director of Institut Nordhausen, also called Zentralwerke, which grew to more than 5000 employees until October 1946.
On October 22, 1946, Operation Osoaviakhim forcibly removed more than 2,200 German specialists – a total of more than 6,000 people including family members – from the Soviet occupation zone of post-World War II Germany for employment in the Soviet Union. 160 specialists from Institut Nordhausen, headed by Helmut Gröttrup, were held on Gorodomlya Island until 1953. As the first task, they had to support the Soviets in building a replica of the V-2 which was called the R-1 and successfully launched in October 1948.  : 30,80–82 The Soviets eventually requested concepts of more powerful boosters for higher payload and range, i.e. nuclear warheads and long-range distance. Therefore, from 1947 to 1950, the German collective proposed concepts for the G-1, G-2 and G-4 with numerous design improvements over the V-2 status: 
- Bundling multiple rocket engines, with the possibility of compensating for an engine failure by shutting down the symmetrically opposed engine (in the later R-7 Semyorka and Sputnik launcher, 4 x 4 for the first stage and 4 engines for the second stage were bundled)
- Vector control of engines by pivoting instead of the complex (and heavy) V-2 vanes made of graphite
- Conical shape of the rocket body for efficient and stable aerodynamics, not requiring elaborate wind tunnel tests for optimization over the entire speed range and associated tank load (later implemented by the R-7)
- Use of tanks as a supporting structure for significant weight reduction
- More precise target control by improved gyro systems, including simulation systems for testing
- Driving turbines with exhaust gas bled from the combustion chamber for higher efficiency (which finally succeeded in the RD-180 design).
Korolev used parts of these proposals for the Soviet developments R-2, R-5 and R-14. In early 1954, the CIA summarized the German concept studies, and Soviet interest therein, based on reports by returned German scientists, among them Fritz Karl Preikschat and Helmut Gröttrup. There was evidence that the Soviets, because of their "love of rocket technology" and "their respect of German work", could well be the first to have long-range missiles.  For political reasons, however, the German impact on the Soviet rocketry and space program has long been underestimated.
The almost eight years of involvement of the German scientists in the Soviet rocketry program proved to be an essential catalyst to its further advancement. During the existence of the USSR, Soviet historians rarely, if ever, mentioned the use of German expertise in the post-war years, but the collaboration was real and extremely pivotal in furthering Soviet goals. [. ] Gröttrup's team was indispensable in quickly transferring the database of German achievements to the Soviets, thus providing a strong foundation from which to proceed.
Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau was dedicated to the liquid-fueled cryogenic rockets he had been experimenting with in the late 1930s. Ultimately, this work resulted in the design of the R-7 Semyorka  intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which was successfully tested in August 1957. This Soviet achievement was based on a strong dedication and strict coordination of all military entities, with Dmitry Ustinov and Sergei Korolev as the main drivers.
The Soviet space program was tied to the USSR's Five-Year Plans and from the start was reliant on support from the Soviet military. Although he was "single-mindedly driven by the dream of space travel", Korolev generally kept this a secret while working on military projects—especially, after the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb test in 1949, a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the United States—as many mocked the idea of launching satellites and crewed spacecraft. Nonetheless, the first Soviet rocket with animals aboard launched in July 1951 the two dogs were recovered alive after reaching 101 km in altitude. Two months ahead of America's first such achievement, this and subsequent flights gave the Soviets valuable experience with space medicine.  : 84–88,95–96,118
Because of its global range and large payload of approximately five tons, the reliable R-7 was not only effective as a strategic delivery system for nuclear warheads, but also as an excellent basis for a space vehicle. The United States' announcement in July 1955 of its plan to launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year greatly benefited Korolev in persuading Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to support his plans.  : 148–151 In a letter addressed to Khrushchev, Korolev stressed the necessity of launching a "simple satellite" in order to compete with the American space effort.  Plans were approved for Earth-orbiting satellites (Sputnik) to gain knowledge of space, and four uncrewed military reconnaissance satellites, Zenit. Further planned developments called for a crewed Earth orbit flight by 1964 and an uncrewed lunar mission at an earlier date.
After the first Sputnik proved to be a successful propaganda coup, Korolev—now known publicly only as the anonymous "Chief Designer of Rocket-Space Systems"  : 168–169 —was charged to accelerate the crewed program, the design of which was combined with the Zenit program to produce the Vostok spacecraft. After Sputnik, Soviet scientists and program leaders envisioned establishing a crewed station to study the effects of zero-gravity and the long term effects on lifeforms in a space environment.  Still influenced by Tsiolkovsky—who had chosen Mars as the most important goal for space travel—in the early 1960s the Soviet program under Korolev created substantial plans for crewed trips to Mars as early as 1968 to 1970. With closed-loop life support systems and electrical rocket engines, and launched from large orbiting space stations, these plans were much more ambitious than America's goal of landing on the Moon.  : 333–337
Funding and support Edit
The Soviet space program was secondary in military funding to the Strategic Rocket Forces' ICBMs. While the West believed that Khrushchev personally ordered each new space mission for propaganda purposes, and the Soviet leader did have an unusually close relationship with Korolev and other chief designers, Khrushchev emphasized missiles rather than space exploration and was not very interested in competing with Apollo.  : 351,408,426–427
While the government and the Communist Party used the program's successes as propaganda tools after they occurred, systematic plans for missions based on political reasons were rare, one exception being Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, on Vostok 6 in 1963.  : 351 Missions were planned based on rocket availability or ad hoc reasons, rather than scientific purposes. For example, the government in February 1962 abruptly ordered an ambitious mission involving two Vostoks simultaneously in orbit launched "in ten days time" to eclipse John Glenn's Mercury-Atlas 6 that month the program could not do so until August, with Vostok 3 and Vostok 4.  : 354–361
Unlike the American space program, which had NASA as a single coordinating structure directed by its administrator, James Webb through most of the 1960s, the USSR's program was split between several competing design groups. Despite the remarkable successes of the Sputniks between 1957 and 1961 and Vostoks between 1961 and 1964, after 1958 Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau faced increasing competition from his rival chief designers, Mikhail Yangel, Valentin Glushko, and Vladimir Chelomei. Korolev planned to move forward with the Soyuz craft and N-1 heavy booster that would be the basis of a permanent crewed space station and crewed exploration of the Moon. However, Dmitry Ustinov directed him to focus on near-Earth missions using the Voskhod spacecraft, a modified Vostok, as well as on uncrewed missions to nearby planets Venus and Mars.
Yangel had been Korolev's assistant but with the support of the military, he was given his own design bureau in 1954 to work primarily on the military space program. This had the stronger rocket engine design team including the use of hypergolic fuels but following the Nedelin catastrophe in 1960 Yangel was directed to concentrate on ICBM development. He also continued to develop his own heavy booster designs similar to Korolev's N-1 both for military applications and for cargo flights into space to build future space stations.
Glushko was the chief rocket engine designer but he had a personal friction with Korolev and refused to develop the large single chamber cryogenic engines that Korolev needed to build heavy boosters.
Chelomey benefited from the patronage of Khrushchev  : 418 and in 1960 was given the plum job of developing a rocket to send a crewed vehicle around the Moon and a crewed military space station. With limited space experience, his development was slow.
The progress of the Apollo program alarmed the chief designers, who each advocated for his own program as the response. Multiple, overlapping designs received approval, and new proposals threatened already approved projects. Due to Korolev's "singular persistence", in August 1964—more than three years after the United States declared its intentions—the Soviet Union finally decided to compete for the moon. It set the goal of a lunar landing in 1967—the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution—or 1968.  : 406–408, 420 At one stage in the early 1960s the Soviet space program was actively developing 30 projects for launchers and spacecraft. [ citation needed ] With the fall of Krushchev in 1964, Korolev was given complete control of the crewed program.
In 1961, Valentin Bondarenko, a cosmonaut and member of the Vostok Spacecraft, was killed in an endurance experiment after the chamber he was in caught on fire. The Soviet Union chose to cover up his death and continue on with the space program. 
Korolev died in January 1966, following a routine operation that uncovered colon cancer, from complications of heart disease and severe hemorrhaging. Kerim Kerimov,  who was formerly an architect of Vostok 1,  was appointed Chairman of the State Commission on Piloted Flights and headed it for the next 25 years (1966–1991). He supervised every stage of development and operation of both crewed space complexes as well as uncrewed interplanetary stations for the former Soviet Union. One of Kerimov's greatest achievements was the launch of Mir in 1986.
The leadership of the OKB-1 design bureau was given to Vasily Mishin, who had the task of sending a human around the Moon in 1967 and landing a human on it in 1968. Mishin lacked Korolev's political authority and still faced competition from other chief designers. Under pressure, Mishin approved the launch of the Soyuz 1 flight in 1967, even though the craft had never been successfully tested on an uncrewed flight. The mission launched with known design problems and ended with the vehicle crashing to the ground, killing Vladimir Komarov. This was the first in-flight fatality of any space program.
Following this tragedy and under new pressures, Mishin developed a drinking problem. The Soviets were beaten in sending the first crewed flight around the Moon in 1968 by Apollo 8, but Mishin pressed ahead with development of the flawed super heavy N1, in the hope that the Americans would have a setback, leaving enough time to make the N1 workable and land a man on the Moon first. There was a success with the joint flight of Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 in January 1969 that tested the rendezvous, docking, and crew transfer techniques that would be used for the landing, and the LK lander was tested successfully in earth orbit. But after four uncrewed test launches of the N1 ended in failure, the program was suspended for two years and then cancelled, removing any chance of the Soviets landing men on the Moon before the United States.
Besides the crewed landings, the abandoned Soviet Moon program included the multipurpose moon base Zvezda, first detailed with developed mockups of expedition vehicles  and surface modules. 
Following this setback, Chelomey convinced Ustinov to approve a program in 1970 to advance his Almaz military space station as a means of beating the US's announced Skylab. Mishin remained in control of the project that became Salyut but the decision backed by Mishin to fly a three-man crew without pressure suits rather than a two-man crew with suits to Salyut 1 in 1971 proved fatal when the re-entry capsule depressurized killing the crew on their return to Earth. Mishin was removed from many projects, with Chelomey regaining control of Salyut. After working with NASA on the Apollo–Soyuz, the Soviet leadership decided a new management approach was needed, and in 1974 the N1 was canceled and Mishin was out of office. The design bureau was renamed NPO Energia with Glushko as chief designer.
In contrast with the difficulty faced in its early crewed lunar programs, the USSR found significant success with its remote moon operations, achieving two historical firsts with the automatic Lunokhod and the Luna sample return missions. The Mars probe program was also continued with some success, while the explorations of Venus and then of the Halley comet by the Venera and Vega probe programs were more effective.
The Soviet space program had withheld information on its projects predating the success of Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite. In fact, when the Sputnik project was first approved, one of the most immediate courses of action the Politburo took was to consider what to announce to the world regarding their event. The Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) established precedents for all official announcements on the Soviet space program. The information eventually released did not offer details on who built and launched the satellite or why it was launched. However, the public release is illuminating in what it does reveal: "there is an abundance of arcane scientific and technical data. as if to overwhelm the reader with mathematics in the absence of even a picture of the object".  What remains of the release is the pride for Soviet cosmonautics and the vague hinting of future possibilities then available after Sputnik's success.
The Soviet space program's use of secrecy served as both a tool to prevent the leaking of classified information between countries and also to create a mysterious barrier between the space program and the Soviet populace. The program's nature embodied ambiguous messages concerning its goals, successes, and values. The program itself was so secret that a regular Soviet citizen could never achieve a concrete image of it, but rather a superficial picture of its history, present activities, or future endeavors. Launchings were not announced until they took place. Cosmonaut names were not released until they flew. Mission details were sparse. Outside observers did not know the size or shape of their rockets or cabins or most of their spaceships, except for the first Sputniks, lunar probes and Venus probe. 
However, the military influence over the Soviet space program may be the best explanation for this secrecy. The OKB-1 was subordinated under the Ministry of General Machine Building,  tasked with the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and continued to give its assets random identifiers into the 1960s: "For example, the Vostok spacecraft was referred to as 'object IIF63' while its launch rocket was 'object 8K72K'".  Soviet defense factories had been assigned numbers rather than names since 1927. Even these internal codes were obfuscated: in public, employees used a separate code, a set of special post-office numbers, to refer to the factories, institutes, and departments.
The program's public pronouncements were uniformly positive: as far as the people knew, the Soviet space program had never experienced failure. According to historian James Andrews, "With almost no exceptions, coverage of Soviet space exploits, especially in the case of human space missions, omitted reports of failure or trouble". 
"The USSR was famously described by Winston Churchill as 'a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma' and nothing signified this more than the search for the truth behind its space program during the Cold War. Although the Space Race was literally played out above our heads, it was often obscured by a figurative 'space curtain' that took much effort to see through"  says Dominic Phelan in the book Cold War Space Sleuths (Springer-Praxis 2013).
When Russia Won the Space Race: A Cold War History, in Pictures
I n a 1961 documentary film showing Yuri Gagarin’s arrival in Moscow at Vnukovo airport following his heroic mission as the first man in space, everything is carefully arranged and staged: the red carpet on the tarmac, the crowd of spectators, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev waiting to welcome him home. All is perfect save for one detail. As Gagarin walks along the red carpet, all eyes on him, his shoelaces become untied.
BOOK REVIEW — “Picturing the Cosmos: A Visual History of Early Soviet Space Endeavor,” by Iina Kohonen (Intellect/University of Chicago Press), 205 pages. Above, a 1961 portrait of the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Ogonyok magazine.
It’s a random human moment in the midst of a meticulously planned spectacle. In his autobiography, Gagarin later described his thoughts: “What if I stepped on them and I fell on the red carpet? That would be really embarrassing. The people would laugh — ‘he did not fall from space, but instead tripped on flat ground…’”
As Iina Kohonen points out in her fascinating new book “Picturing the Cosmos: A Visual History of Early Soviet Space Endeavor,” Soviet media was controlled down to the smallest detail. The public perception of the Motherland’s space efforts was the product of a painstakingly curated narrative of Soviet triumph and exploration. “The cosmonauts were described … as ideal men, both physically and mentally…” Kohonen writes. So why was this awkward chink in the shining armor of the Soviet hero not edited from the film?
The answer demonstrates Kohonen’s major thesis: the importance and power of imagery in the space race, both politically and culturally, in the Soviet Union. The book examines how visual media served to construct an overarching heroic mythos of the conquering Soviet man, bravely exploring the depths of space, for the glory of the USSR and all mankind, and how that narrative was crafted to emphasize the values that Soviet leaders wanted to instill in their citizenry — while hiding uncomfortable realities and preventing attitudes at odds with the official line.
A cultural anthropologist and expert on the visual history of the Soviet space program, Kohonen concentrates on the archives of the popular weekly photo magazine Ogonyok, the Soviet equivalent of Life. If not always “fake news” in the 21st-century American sense of the term, the reportage of magazines such as Ogonyok was political propaganda, social control, and collective psychological anodyne all at once. “From the viewpoint of the present observer,” writes Kohonen, “the material … colored and modified the truth, covered faults, hid, and abjectly lied. The imagery connected to space in the Soviet Union cannot be examined as neutral photos taken for the press.”
Instead, the public image of the cosmonaut had to be honed to a fine edge of idealized reality. He was a stalwart military pilot, a devoted family man, a dedicated Communist. Those who failed to live up to these ideals were purged from public existence. Consider Grigori Nelyubov, who might have been the first man in space instead of Yuri Gagarin until he was drummed out of the cosmonaut corps for “bad behavior.” Kohonen shows how Nelyubov’s image was erased from photos after his fall from grace. And although women supposedly enjoyed full equality in Communist society, Soviet image makers had trouble dealing with the fact that female cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was single — at least until she was finally married off to another cosmonaut. Meanwhile, Tereshkova’s sister cosmonauts, none of whom ever flew, were never photographed or revealed to the public — hidden figures of the Soviet space program.
Yet reality could sometimes usurp the official mythology. Although “accidents or failures did not belong to the narrative of the victorious space program,” and those that were met “by those candidates still out of the public eye remained hidden from public view,” it was impossible to ignore the deaths of already publicized Soviet heroes, such as Vladimir Komarov, who died in a re-entry accident in 1967. But truth could still be de-emphasized and details obscured. “In Ogonyok, the case was glossed over with a brief obituary the accident was not front-page news,” notes Kohonen. The major exception was the death of Yuri Gagarin in a 1968 flight training accident. But Gagarin’s mythic status also afforded a prime opportunity to exploit the tragedy to maximum effect with an elaborate state funeral. “Even Ogonyok admitted this: Gagarin had been closer to God than anybody else and was therefore a saint,” writes Kohonen.
The cover of Ogonyok in January 1958. The caption reads, “Happy New Year, comrades!”
Visual: From "Picturing the Cosmos" (Intellect Books)
Reality intruded in other ways. Using imagery from its Moon-orbiting Luna 3 probe, the USSR had begun mapping the dark side of the Moon, naming previously unseen lunar features with terminology that was later officially accepted by the International Astronomical Union, the authority in charge of naming all celestial bodies. But this apparent triumph for Soviet science evaporated shortly thereafter, when more detailed imagery (some from the U.S.-manned Apollo missions) proved that two of the biggest findings that the Soviets had so proudly named didn’t actually exist and were only the artifacts of low-resolution photography. “The Soviet Union could not have lost the Moon Race in a more symbolic way,” Kohonen remarks.
The heart of Kohonen’s story in “Picturing the Cosmos: A Visual History of Early Soviet Space Endeavor” is, of course, the fascinating collection of images she has compiled. Some of them may be familiar to dedicated space geeks. But many more will be surprising and fresh, which makes it a shame that most of the 125 images are displayed in such small sizes that it’s often difficult to adequately appreciate the details that Kohonen describes in her analyses. And although each image is referenced in the text by number, some of the references are inaccurate, leading to occasional confusion. Still, the sheer number of images and Kohonen’s astute commentary help compensate for these lapses.
A nd what of Gagarin’s shoelaces? Kohonen shows that it’s a rare example of truth being adopted to serve the heroic narrative. “The shoelaces becoming untied was certainly a mistake, but leaving the detail in the film was not,” she concludes. They were “a happy slip that was taken as part of the story. Through the shoelaces, Gagarin’s humanity, ordinariness, and fallibility were emphasized.”
But other inconvenient truths continued to be excised from public consciousness. Kohonen found the same scene included in a film from the late 60s, years after Khrushchev had been ousted from power. Gagarin’s shoelaces are still untied. But the since disgraced nonperson Khrushchev had been edited out.
Mark Wolverton is a science writer, author, and playwright whose articles have appeared in Undark, Wired, Scientific American, Popular Science, Air & Space Smithsonian, and American Heritage, among other publications. His most recent book is “A Life in Twilight: The Final Years of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” In 2016-17, he was a Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT.
This Is Why The Soviet Union Lost 'The Space Race' To The USA
Apollo 11 brought humans onto the surface of the Moon for the first time in 1969. Shown here is Buzz . [+] Aldrin setting up the Solar Wind experiment as part of Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong snapping the photograph. Until 1966, however, the Soviet Union was far ahead in the space race. In just three years, the United States leapfrogged and surpassed them.
Here in the United States and all across the world, humanity is currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the culmination of the Space Race: the quest to put a human being on the Moon and safely return them to Earth. On July 20, 1969, our species achieved the culmination of a dream older than civilization itself: human beings set foot on the surface of another world beyond Earth.
If any nation was going to do it, most thought it would be the Soviet Union. The Soviets were first to every milestone in space before that: the first satellite, the first crewed spaceflight, the first person to orbit the Earth, the first woman in space, the first spacewalk, the first landers on another world, etc. After the disastrous Apollo 1 fire, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Soviets would be the first to walk on the Moon. Yet they never even came close. Why not? The answer is a name you've probably never heard of: Sergei Korolev. Here's what you should know.
Sergei Korolev, at right, was initially an aerospace pilot and a student of Tsiolkovsky's work . [+] before becoming a rocket and spacecraft designer. He is shown here with designer Boris Cheranovsky near a BICh-8 glider, in a photo from 1929.
Long before humanity ever broke the gravitational bonds of Earth, there were a few scientists working all over the world who pioneered what's now the science of theoretical astronautics. While it had much in common with aeronautics, based on the physics of Newton, there were additional restrictions and concerns that came along with the idea of journeying into space. Unlike with terrestrial flight, journeying into space necessarily meant:
- needing a fuel source that could propel you in the absence of an atmosphere,
- the ability to continuously accelerate for long periods of time,
- materials that would keep humans and equipment safe at all temperatures and pressures achieved during flight,
The Tsiolkovsky rocket equation is required to describe how fast a spacecraft that burns through a . [+] portion of its fuel to create thrust can wind up traveling through the Universe. Having to bring your own fuel on board is a severely limiting factor as far as the speed at which we can travel through intergalactic space.
Skorkmaz at English Wikipedia
In the early days, all of these concerns were mulled over by theorists alone. A few pioneers stand out in the history of the early 20th century: Robert Goddard, who created and launched the first liquid-fueled rocket Robert Esnault-Pelterie, who began designing airplanes and airplane engines but later moved on to rocketry, developing the idea of rocket maneuvering and Hermann Oberth, who built and launched rockets, rocket motors, liquid-fueled rockets, and mentored a young Wernher von Braun.
But before any of them came Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who was the first to understand the relationship between consumable rocket fuel, mass, thrust, and acceleration. Perhaps more than any other person, Tsiolkovsky's early works influenced the development of spaceflight and space exploration across the globe. And while Goddard was American, Esnault-Pelterie was French, and Oberth was German, Tsiolkovsky lived his entire life in and around Moscow, Russia/USSR.
In the heart of Moscow, there exists a monument to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the founding scientist of . [+] modern spaceflight and astronautics. He is memorialized with this statue at the bottom of the monument of the "Conquerors of Space" obelisk in Moscow.
Although Tsiolkovsky died in 1935, his work left a lasting scientific legacy, particularly in Russia. Sergey Korolev was Tsiolkovsky's pioneering experimental counterpart, who dreamed of traveling to Mars and launched, in 1933, the first Soviet liquid-fueled rocket and the first hybrid-fueled rocket. In 1938, he became a victim of Stalin's Great Purge. Korolev was imprisoned in the Gulag, where he languished until 1944.
In the aftermath of World War II, both the USA's and the USSR's space programs were boosted by the addition of captured German scientists. The USA got most of the top German scientists and a slew of V-2 rockets, but the Soviet Union captured many of the German records, including drawings from V-2 production sites, and the influential scientist Helmut Gröttrup. Unlike the USA, though, the legacy of Tsiolkovsky gave the Soviets an initial edge.
Sergei Korolev, shown here in 1961, served many functions in the Soviet space program, including as . [+] the capsule commander from the ground during many of the crewed spaceflights of the 1960s.
This combination — of German V-2 technology, Tsiolkovsky's theoretical work, and Korolev's brainpower and imagination — proved an incredible recipe for Soviet success in the venture of space exploration. Korolev's rise upon his release from the Gulag was nothing short of meteoric.
In 1945, he was commissioned as a colonel in the Red Army, where he immediately began work on developing rocket motors. After being decorated with the Badge of Honor later that year, he was brought to Germany to help recover V-2 rocket technology. By 1946, Korolev was put in charge of overseeing a team of many German specialists, including Gröttrup, in the endeavor to develop a national rocket and missile program. Korolev was appointed as chief designer of long-range missiles, where by 1947, his team was launching R-1 rockets: perfect replicas of the German V-2 designs.
The first photogram (1946) of the Earth's curvature, as seen from a human-launched rocket. The . [+] German V-2 rocket, along with most of the rocket scientists, were brought to the USA after World War II, but the Soviets managed to get their hands on the blueprints and a few scientists and engineers. Contemporaneous with this US-generated image, Korolev's team was building a Russian version of the V-2: the R-1 rocket.
U.S. Military, White Sands Naval Base, New Mexico
Sure, the United States was doing something very similar: launching V-2 rockets from White Sands missile base in New Mexico in the late 1940s, taking full advantage of post-war German technology. But beginning in 1947, the Korolev-led group began working on advancing and improving the design of the Soviet R-1 rockets, leading to greater missile ranges and the implementation of separate-stage payloads, which could easily double as warheads.
By 1949, the Soviets were launching R-2 rockets designed by Korolev, with double the range and improved accuracy over the original V-2 clones, but Korolev was already thinking further. As early as 1947, Korolev had come up with an entirely novel design for an R-3 missile, with a range of 3,000 kilometers: enough to reach England from Moscow.
The first R-1 rocket launched from Russia occurred in September of 1948, from Kapustin Yar. Of the . [+] 12 rockets delivered, nine were launched and seven successfully hit their targets: about on par with the success rates of the German V-2 rockets they were designed to replicate.
The incremental improvements to rocket and missile technology under Korolev accumulated at a staggering pace under Korolev's guidance. By 1957, the Soviets had achieved the first successful test flight of the R-7 Semyorka: the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile. The R-7 was a two-stage rocket with a maximum range of 7,000 kilometers and a payload of 5.4 tons, enough to carry a Soviet nuclear bomb from St. Petersburg to New York City.
These achievements catapulted Korolev to national prominence within the Soviet Union. He was declared fully rehabilitated, and began advocating for using the R-7 to launch a satellite into space, met with utter disinterest from the Communist Party. But when the United States media began discussing the possibilities of investing millions of dollars to launch a satellite, Korolev seized his chance. In less than a month, Sputnik 1 was designed, constructed, and launched.
A technician working on Sputnik 1 in 1957, prior to its launch. After a mere 3 months in space, . [+] Sputnik 1 fell back to Earth due to atmospheric drag, a problem that plagues all low-Earth-orbiting satellites even today.
On October 4, 1957, the space age officially began. Korolev's rockets had brought humanity above the bonds of Earth's gravity and into orbit. While Khrushchev was initially bored with Korolev's rocket launches, the worldwide recognition for his achievements was too large to ignore on the international stage. Less than a month later, Sputnik 2 — six times the mass of Sputnik 1 — was launched, carrying Laika the dog into orbit.
The launch of the complex Sputnik 3, complete with scientific instruments and a primitive recording device, occurred in May of 1958, demonstrating the capabilities of the Soviet space program. But Korolev had his sights on a bigger target: the Moon. Initially desiring to use the R-7 to carry a package there, Korolev modified the rocket's upper stage for use solely in outer space: the first rocket designed for use solely in outer space.
The Soviet rocket R-7 Semyorka, as shown here, had a dual purpose: to serve as an intercontinental . [+] ballistic missile (ICBM) but also to enable the delivery of large-mass payloads to space. Yuri Gagarin's infamous voyager into space came aboard a modified R-7 rocket.
Despite an enormous lack of funding, time pressure, and an inability to test hardware prior to launch, Korolev was determined to launch a payload to the Moon. On January 2, 1959, The Luna 1 mission reached the Moon, but flew past instead of impacting it, which was the intent. (It missed by less than 6,000 kilometers.) On September 14, 1959, Luna 2 succeeded: becoming the first human-made object to arrive on the Moon.
Less than a month later, Luna 3 took the first photograph of the Moon's far side. In the realm of space exploration, the Soviets were achieving new milestones while the United States was forced to play catch-up. Korolev's achievements led the way, with his dreams growing ever larger. He sought to make the first soft landing on the Moon, and had his sights on Mars and Venus as well. But his biggest dream was for human spaceflight, and to bring humans anywhere his rockets could take them.
Russian rocket engineer Sergei Korolev with the cosmonauts that would fly aboard his rockets, as . [+] shown in Crimea, USSR, circa 1960. Korolyov (1907-1966) was the leading Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer during the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Beginning in 1958, Korolev began undertaking design studies for what would become the Soviet Vostok spacecraft: a fully automated capsule capable of holding a human passenger in a space suit. By May of 1960, an uncrewed prototype was launched, orbiting the Earth 64 times before failing re-entry. On August 19, 1960, two dogs, Beika and Streika, were launched into low-Earth orbit and successfully returned, marking the first time a living creature was launched into space and recovered.
On April 12, 1961, Korolev's modified R-7 launched Yuri Gagarin into space: the first human to break the gravitational bonds of Earth, and also the first human to orbit Earth. The additional Vostok flights, under Korolev's watch (he served as the capsule coordinator), included the first inter-spacecraft communications and rendezvous, as well as the first woman cosmonaut: Valentina Tereshkova.
Nikita Khrushchev (right), first secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, and cosmonauts Valentina . [+] Tereshkova, Pavel Popovich (center) and Yuri Gagarin at the Lenin Mausoleum during a demonstration dedicated to the successful 1963 space flights of the Vostok-5 (Valery Bykovsky) and Vostok-6 (Valentina Tershkova) spacecraft.
RIA Novosti archive, image #159271 / V. Malyshev / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Korolev then began work on the Voskhod programme, with the ultimate goal of sending multiple astronauts into space and eventually to the Moon. As early as 1961, Korolev began designing a superheavy launch rocket: the N-1, which used an NK-15 liquid fuel engine and was of the same scale as the Saturn V. With the capacity for a three-person crew and the capability of performing a soft landing upon return, the Soviets were poised to take the next step in the Space Race.
On October 12, 1964, a crew of three Soviet cosmonauts — Vladimir Komarov, Boris Yegorov and Konstantin Feoktistov — completed 16 orbits in space aboard Voskhod 1. Five months later, Alexei Leonov, aboard Vostok 2, performed humanity's first spacewalk. The next step was to reach for the Moon, and Korolev was ready. With the 1964 fall of Khrushchev, Korolev was put in sole charge of the crewed space program, with the goal of a lunar landing for October 1967 (the 50th anniversary of the October revolution) seemingly within reach.
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (left) shaking hands with rocket designer Sergei Korolev (right) at baikonur, . [+] just before his flight into space, from April 12, 1961. Although Korolev might not be the household name that Gagarin is, he is universally heralded (by those not named Khrushchev) as the architect and driving force behind the successes of the Soviet crewed space program. (Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Korolev began designing the Soyuz spacecraft that would carry crews to the Moon, as well as the Luna vehicles that would land softly on the Moon, plus robotic missions to Mars and Venus. Korolev also sought to fulfill Tsiolkovsky's dream of putting humans on Mars, with plans for closed-loop life support systems, electrical rocket engines, and orbiting space stations to serve as interplanetary launch sites.
But it was not to be: Korolev entered the hospital on January 5, 1966, for what was thought to be routine intestinal surgery. Nine days later, he was dead from colon cancer complications. Without Korolev as the chief designer, everything went downhill quickly for the Soviets. While he was alive, Korolev fended off attempted meddling from designers like Mikhail Yangel, Vladimir Chhelomei, and Valentin Glushko. But the power vacuum that arose after his demise proved catastrophic.
The wreckage of the Soyuz 1 mission included a fire that was so catastrophic that it took multiple . [+] teams and many attempts to extinguish the flaming wreckage. Komarov was killed by multiple blunt force trauma during the catastrophic descent and re-entry.
Vasily Mishin was chosen as Korolev's successor, and disaster immediately followed. The Soviet goals of orbiting the Moon in 1967 and landing on the Moon in 1968 remained unchanged, and Mishin was under pressure to get them there. On April 23, 1967, Soyuz 1 was launched, with Komarov on board: the first crewed flight since the death of Korolev.
Despite 203 design faults reported by project engineers, the launch still occurred, immediately encountering a series of failures. First, one solar panel failed to unfold, leading to inadequate power. Then the orientation detectors malfunctioned, the automatic stabilization system failed, and the launch of Soyuz 2, expected to rendezvous with Soyuz 1, was cancelled due to thunderstorms. Komarov's report on the 13th orbit let to a mission abort 5 orbits (about 7 hours) later, Soyuz 1 fired its retrorockets and re-entered Earth's atmosphere. Due to another defect, the main parachute never unfolded, and Komarov's manually deployed reserve chute became tangled.
The first flight under Korolev's successor had ended in the worst disaster imaginable: the first in-flight fatality of any space program.
The second N-1 rocket that had a launch attempted failed almost immediately, as the primary booster . [+] stage crashed back down onto the launch pad, causing a fantastic and chilling explosion. Here, the second stage ignites in an attempt to escape it was unsuccessful.
RKK Energia / RussianSpaceWeb
Further setbacks suddenly became the norm. Gagarin, the first human in space, was killed in test flight in 1968. Mishin developed a drinking problem, and multiple N-1 rocket failures and explosions plagued 1969. The lone bright spots came in January of 1969, where the rendezvous, docking, and crew transfer of cosmonauts between two Soyuz spacecraft were achieved.
But the death of Korolev, and the mishaps under his successors, are the real reason why the Soviets lost their lead in the space race, and never achieved the goal of landing humans on the Moon. Smaller goals, such as the first robotic rover on the Moon, as well as the first uncrewed landings on Mars and Venus, were achieved by the Soviet space program in the 1970s, but the big prize was already taken. If not for Korolev's unexpected health decline and death, perhaps history would have turned out differently. In the end, a single person can be the difference between success and failure.
In Japan the University of Tokyo created an Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) in 1964. This small group undertook the development of scientific spacecraft and the vehicles needed to launch them, and it launched Japan’s first satellite, Ōsumi, in 1970. In 1981 oversight of ISAS was transferred to the Japanese Ministry of Education. In 1969 the Japanese government founded a National Space Development Agency (NASDA), which subsequently undertook a comprehensive program of space technology and satellite development and built a large launch vehicle, called the H-II, for those satellites. In 2001 both ISAS and NASDA came under the control of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. In 2003 ISAS, NASDA, and the National Aerospace Laboratory were merged into a new organization, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Alexei Leonov, first spacewalk
The success in 1964 of the first Voskhod (Dawn) mission with three cosmonauts on board cleared the way for the next challenge for the Soviet program, the first spacewalk. On March 18, 1965, Alexei Leonov, one of the two crewmembers of the Voskhod 2, abandoned his spacecraft for 12 minutes with only his spacesuit for protection. The capsule made a total of 16 trips around the Earth in over 24 hours.
But once again the mission was not without its problems. During his walk, Leonov’s suit swelled up so much that he could not bend his joints, and he barely managed to get back through the hatch when re-entering the spacecraft. With their suits inflated the two cosmonauts could not sit down, which unbalanced the craft on re-entry.
Unlike the Vostok missions in which the crewmembers were ejected from the craft to land by parachute, the Voskhod touched down with its occupants inside. The capsule landed in a thick forest in the Ural Mountains, so frozen and remote that Leonov and his colleague, Pavel Belyayev, had to wait for a rescue party made up of skiers.
The USSR was Ahead of the US in Space Race Until an Unexpected Tragedy
It was April 1967, and Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was in a tough position. He was about to be launched into space aboard the Soyuz 1 rocket. Ordinarily, it was an opportunity a cosmonaut would be willing to kill for. But Komarov knew that the Soyuz 1 was likely doomed. The Soyuz mission would be complex, requiring the craft to rendezvous with another craft in orbit to transfer crew by spacewalk before returning to Earth. Even in the best circumstances, it would test the limits of the craft and the cosmonauts. And the Soyuz 1 was hardly the best craft to do it in.
There were already rumors that the Soyuz was in bad shape. The most recent test flight of the craft had been a miserable disaster. A malfunction with the ship&rsquos escape system had triggered a massive explosion on the launch pad, obliterating the craft. Had the test been manned, any cosmonaut on board would have died instantly. It was clear to everyone involved in the launches that the craft wasn&rsquot ready for any sort of mission. But the higher-ups ignored these potential problems and demanded that the launch go forward.
Soviet cosmonauts (Komarov and Yuri Gagarin are standing next to each other on the bottom left of the photo). Wikimedia Commons.
After all, Lenin&rsquos birthday was coming up. And what better way to celebrate than for the communist state he left behind to send a man into space? More importantly, the Soviets were in a race with the Americans to reach the moon. The Space Race had come to embody the entirety of the Cold War, as both sides competed to see which system was more capable of dominating space. So far the Soviets were winning. Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, had been the first man to ever leave the Earth in 1961. Reacting to the Soviet success, the Americans had vowed to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
The Soyuz mission was vital to the Soviet plan to beat them there. There could be no delays. The launch was scheduled for April 23, 1967. Komarov was tapped to man the craft, while Gagarin was slated to be the backup pilot. But Gagarin was a national hero. He was a symbol of the success of the communist system. There was no way that any of his superiors would risk his life in a questionable launch. Gagarin knew that. According to a Pravda journalist who claimed to be on the scene, Gagarin tried to muscle his way on to the flight at the last minute.
Yuri Gagarin. Wikimedia Commons.
His motivation, according to former KGB agent Venyamin Russayev who claimed to know Gagarin personally, was to get the flight scrapped and save Komarov&rsquos life. According to Russayev, Komarov and Gagarin were friends, and Komarov had already insisted that Gagarin wasn&rsquot to take his place on the flight. It&rsquos believable given that the two were known to be close. However, some historians have pointed out that this incident was unlikely and that Russayev, in particular, isn&rsquot a reliable source. Like many of the details that people often cite surrounding the case, this incident should be taken with a grain of salt. But whatever else happened on the launch pad, we do know that Komarov eventually boarded the craft and prepared to take off into space.
The USSR Takes the Lead in the Space Race
In early October of 1957, the Soviet Union started the Space Race with a bang, leaving the United States in the dust. How? By sending a 2-foot metal sphere into space.
Of course, it wasn't just a hunk of metal. That sphere had 4 radio antennae ready to provide scientists with information about the Earth's atmosphere and the reaches of space. Let's call that hunk of metal by its proper name: Sputnik, or Elementary Satellite-1.
The United States and the USSR, enmeshed in a bitter standoff nicknamed the Cold War, were always on the lookout for space to edge ahead of the other. In 1957, the USSR took a considerable step ahead and, while the US was embarrassed to find themselves trailing behind their rivals, sometimes the best way to jump start a flagging program is by bringing in some competition. It's interesting to think: Would the U.S. have enjoyed their eventual successes in spacelanding on the moon if the Soviets had not lit a fire under them by taking the first leap into the atmosphere? Would space travel remain a distant dream for long years later, an unfinished project gathering dust on NASA's shelf?
Weighing in at 184 pounds, Sputnik traveled approximately 18,000 miles per hour, orbiting the Earth once every 96 minutes. It was visible to bystanders using binoculars either just before sunrise or after sunset, and the radio signals it sent back to Earth were robust and clear enough to be heard by radio hobbyists outside of Soviet labs. Amateur radio users all over the world tuned in to hear Sputnik beep its way across the sky for the next twenty-two days.
Sputnik's batteries ran out on October 26, and the spherical shell burned up in January 1958, falling back into the Earth's atmosphere after covering nearly 44 million miles in its 3 months in orbit.
Looking back from the perspective of 2014 and our ever-advancing technology, it's easy to claim that Sputnik's actual exploits were insignificant. But everything the Space Race included needs to start somewhere. And as rudimentary as Sputnik may seem in explanation today, it was the height of scientific achievement in its day.
USSR leads the space race - HISTORY
In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite. The 184-pound, 22.5-inch sphere orbited the earth once every 96 minutes. Sputnik transmitted radio signals for 21 days and later burned up in the earth's atmosphere. A second Sputnik, launched in November 1957, carried a dog named Laika. This satellite weighed a thousand pounds.
In December, the United States made its first attempt at a satellite launch. A Navy Vanguard rocket, carrying a payload only one-fortieth the size of Sputnik, lifted a few feet off of its launch pad before falling back to earth. It exploded in a ball or orange flames and black smoke. Premier Khrushchev boasted that "America sleeps under a Soviet moon." Because Sputnik was launched on an intercontinental ballistic missile, Soviet leaders cited it as proof that they could deliver hydrogen bombs at will.
Sputnik's launch meant that the Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the United States would take place, not only on earth, but also in outer space. Americans, who thought of themselves as the world's technology pacesetters, felt vulnerable a sensation that was reinforced in 1959, when the Soviet Union fired the first rockets to circle the moon and brought back pictures of its dark side. In April 1961, the Soviets launched the first manned spaceship into orbit, piloted by 27-year-old Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In 1966, the Soviets were the first to land an unmanned vehicle on the moon.
Sputnik led Congress to pass a series of massive federal aid-to-education measures. Science became a priority in schools and universities. Soviet space successes led President John F. Kennedy to tell a joint session of Congress in May 1961 that the United States would land a man on the moon and bring him home by the end of the 1960s.
The U.S. space program passed through several stages. There were six one-man flights in the Mercury program, which expanded from suborbital flights to an orbital mission that lasted more than 34 hours. The Gemini program followed with ten two-man flights, including the first spacewalk and the rendezvous and docking of two spacecraft. One mission lasted 14 days.
Then disaster struck. In January 1967, a fire destroyed a prototype command module, killing the crew of Apollo 1. Four manned flights in late 1968 and early 1969 paved the way for a historic launch of Apollo 11. The launch was witnessed by a million people assembled along Florida's beaches.
At 4:17 p.m. Eastern time, July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong announced: "Houston. the Eagle has landed." The landing vehicle had less than a minutes worth of fuel remaining. The astronauts spent only two-and-a-half hours walking on the lunar surface.
Eight years after President Kennedy had called on the United States to land a man on the moon, the mission had been successfully accomplished. A total of 400,000 American employees from 20,000 companies had worked directly on the Apollo program. The cost was $25 billion.
Today, more than half of all Americans are too young to remember that historic mission. At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, a Saturn V rocket--bigger than a 40-story building--lies on the ground. It is not a mockup. It was intended to carry Apollo 18 to the moon. But due to budget cutbacks, the mission was never carried out.