The Golden Age of Space: Sputnik to Apollo 11 By Melissa Kay Mee, Fenton History Center Marketing Assistant Volunteer
October 5, 1957 New York Times Headline
After the Soviet Union’s display of advanced space technology with the surprise launch of its Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile “Sputnik” in 1957, the United States immediately set forth to ensure the safety of the nation. Widespread fear circulated the globe, as the world suspected the Soviet missile was capable of detonating nuclear warheads. Despite an infatuation with space being evident in the early 1950’s, to many, the concept of launching a missile into space and space travel had previously been strictly fantasy.
By 1958, the United States formally waged its silent war by launching its own satellite, Explorer 1. This act officially made space a silent battlefield for the two opposing forces during the Cold War. Due to an urgent need to surpass the Soviet Union’s technological capabilities and after the success of Explorer 1, President Dwight Eisenhower understood the urgent need to allocate an entire federal agency solely dedicated to space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created that same year. The Soviet Union took the upper hand in 1959 after it launched Luna 2 and successfully probed the moon.
Continuing to stay strong and steady in its lead, the Soviet Union astonished the world when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin successfully orbited the Earth in April of 1961. The United States fell short in May of 1961 in terms of matching the Soviet Union’s recent feat, but managed to stay determined. It was not until February of 1962 that American astronaut, John Glenn, would successfully orbit the Earth, as his Soviet opponent had done three years prior.
July 21, 1969 Washington Post Headline
After Apollo 8 orbited the moon in December of 1968, American astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins embarked on the Apollo 11 space mission on July 16, 1969. The first lunar landing mission was complete when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon’s surface. As President John F. Kennedy publicly announced in 1961, an American astronaut would be the first man to walk on the moon within the decade.
This accomplishment marked an end to the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union made several attempts to land on the moon with no avail between 1969 and 1972. The United States had triumphantly succeeded in its mission to ensure the safety of the nation.
“Cold War Handshake”
The Cold War came to an end in 1975 soon after the United States and the Soviet Union collaborated efforts to complete a joint Apollo-Soyuz mission. A handshake between the commander of the American-made Apollo spacecraft and the commander of the Soviet-made Soyuz vehicle on the moon’s surface symbolized a new era of peace between the United States and the Soviet Union.
December 1966 Children’s Digest
From start to finish, America was in a state of constant anticipation during the entire course of the Space Race. Stories of developments flooded the media causing the nation’s imagination to spin into overdrive. American space engineers and astronauts were heroes in the eyes of the American people.
Everyday citizens found themselves enthralled with previously unimaginable concepts that infiltrated television, film, and press. An infatuation with the Space Race quickly evolved past news broadcasts and found its way into décor, fashion, food, science fiction, television, toys, and was even incorporated into traditional holidays, sparking what was known as the Golden Age of Space (1957-1975).
Vintage Space Age inspired Valentine
The Fenton History Center’s 38th Annual Holiday Exhibit: Space Age Christmas is to stay on display until January 21, 2017. Do not miss your chance to see how the Space Race reshaped American culture this holiday season.