The Space Race: A Giant Leap for Mankind

By Jack Ripley | January 18, 2024

Ham The Chimpanzee Was Launched Into Space Three Months Before The First American Man

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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NASA

One of the earliest goals of the Space Race was to be the first nation to send a man into space. However, there were many challenges that had to be tackled before this could happen. In fact, scientists didn't even know if it was possible to eat in outer space. There were many other potential issues that doctors believed could arise due to the zero-gravity environment of space. However, the only way to determine how space would affect the body was through testing.

Scientists performed a wide range of medical experiments to test how the body would be likely to respond to spaceflight, but the only way to know how the body was likely to respond was to send our closest relatives (chimps) into space. One of these chimps is pictured here, and his name was Ham. After the spaceflight, he lived until 1983 and died at 26 years old.

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.