9 Not-So-Small Space Race Facts

By Kristen Day

We’ve all heard Neil Armstrong’s famous quote, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” But how well do you know the story surrounding that famous spacewalk? Before you take off, launch into these nine not-so-small facts!

  1. The “space race” started in the 1950s after the Cold War turned the United States and Soviet Union into enemies. Both nations wanted to prove they had the best technology and ideology.
  2. Sputnik, the first man-made object to enter Earth’s orbit in 1957, is the Russian word for traveler.
  3. The US Army actually built the first American satellite in 1958 since NASA wasn’t formed until later that year.
  4. President John F. Kennedy further ignited the space race in 1961, saying “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
  5. Top Secret! From 1960 to 1972 in a reconnaissance project code-named Corona, the United States routinely photographed the Soviet Union from space.
  6. Soviets launched 26-year-old Valentina Tereshkova into orbit on June 16th, 1963, making her the first woman ever in space. You go, girl!
  7. Apollo 8 was the first manned space mission to orbit the moon in 1968.
  8. This mission also photographed the first earthrise.
  9. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men on the moon in 1969. Since then, 10 American men have also performed spacewalks. However, no one has returned to the moon since 1972.

Want to learn more about the space race? Go see the play One Small Step returning to Purdue on November 5-9 in Loeb Playhouse! It’s a family-friendly retelling of the heroic race to space.