On July 29, 1955, White House press secretary James Hagerty issued a modest little press release from his boss, president Dwight D. Eisenhower, stating that the U.S. planned to launch a science satellite into orbit.
Hagerty didn't know it at the time, but he'd just initiated the world-shaking, high-stakes face-off now known as the Space Race. As Laura Ling explains in this Seeker Daily report, the not-so-friendly competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would rage for decades and change the literal trajectory of humankind.
Four days after the U.S. announcement, the Soviet Union responded that they also planned to put an artificial satellite into orbit by the end of the year. The Soviets and the U.S. were navigating the early days of the Cold War, and battle lines were being drawn in space.
For good reason, too. Both countries were trying desperately to develop long-range ballistic missiles, which required launching weapons up and out of the atmosphere. The ability to get a satellite in orbit also meant they could get weapons into space.
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The Russians famously beat the U.S. to the punch, putting the basketball-sized satellite known as Sputnik into orbit on October 4, 1957. The Americans freaked directly out and doubled their efforts. Still more budget money was poured into space research and development. Four years later, the Soviets won again, putting the first manned space vehicle into orbit.
But the U.S. rallied in a big way. In 1962, president John F. Kennedy pledged to put a man on the moon. Six years later, NASA launched Apollo 11. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to step foot on another celestial body. The Russians never did catch up, and they remained well behind the U.S. until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Space Race fueled some of the greatest innovations and technological developments in history. The competition has since evolved into cooperation. Today, the U.S. and Russia work together with a dozen other nations to maintain the International Space Station.
Double Secret Bonus Trivia: The Russian word "Sputik" translates to "traveler" or "seeker."
-- Glenn McDonald
History: The Space Race
Space.com: Sputnik: The Space Race's Opening Shot
NASA: July 20, 1969: One Giant Leap For Mankind
Royal Air Force Museum: Space Race