The Space Race: A Giant Leap for Mankind

By Jack Ripley | March 8, 2024

Project Mercury Astronaut Walter Schirra

After World War II, tensions rose between the US and the Soviet Union, which led to a nuclear arms race. This led to the two superpowers investing a lot of time and energy into the development of rocket technology, and this led to the Space Race, which began when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. This satellite was launched in 1957, and it sent a radio signal back to Earth that could be detected around the world. The United States launched Explorer 1 approximately a year after the launch of Sputnik, making shockwaves as well as important contributions to science.

Before the world knew what hit it, the two nations engaged in a race to put a man in space. The Space Race ultimately led to the US sending a man to the moon, and there were several manned missions to the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972. These missions to the cosmos allowed humanity to learn a tremendous amount about outer space and our nearest celestial neighbor, the moon. Strap in as we take a look at how the Space Race paved the way for the world we live in today.


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Walter Schirra was one of Project Mercury's brave astronauts who flew into orbit. He went on to orbit the Earth a total of six times during the Mercury program. In fact, he was one of the first Americans to fly into space, and he was on the first Mercury mission. In addition, he flew on the Gemini missions and on Apollo 7 in July of 1969. This was the first successful crewed spaceflight during the Apollo program, and it repeated the goals of the failed Apollo 1 mission

Before exploring space, NASA pilots prepared for the experience by flying high-altitude aircrafts

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

NASA began to prepare for spaceflight by flying aircraft to high altitudes, such as the B-52. These flights would simulate some of the conditions that pilots would encounter during spaceflight, such as strong G-forces. However, the altitudes that these planes flew at were still well within Earth's atmosphere.

In addition, pilots often had to carry supplemental oxygen on these extraordinary test flights. Some examples of aircraft that were used for these test flights were B-52s, the X-15, SR-71s and the XB-70 Valkyrie.