The Space Race: A Giant Leap for Mankind

By Jack Ripley | January 25, 2024

Ed White, out for his famous spacewalk. June 1965

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

Walking in space presents many novel challenges, which took NASA quite a while to tackle. In fact, early spacewalks were fraught with issues, which led the agency to make significant changes to how they were performed. This spacewalk was one of the first missions where astronauts traveled outside of the capsule. The lack of gravity makes it difficult to control your body's movements through space, and being outside of the pressurized cabin presents challenges and dangers.

Ttemperatures in outer space fluctuate rapidly between approximately 250 degrees above zero and 200 degrees below zero. This means that spacesuits need to be designed to provide sufficient protection from these extreme elements. The lack of air means that spacesuits need to be designed to be completely airtight. A small leak could lead to the suit being depressurized which would spell disaster for the astronaut.

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.