On October 4, 1957,
the world watched in awe and fear
as the Soviet Union launched Sputnik,
the world's first man-made satellite,
This little metal ball,
smaller than two feet in diameter,
launched a space race
between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
that would last for eighteen years
and change the world as we know it.
Sputnik was actually not the first piece
of human technology to enter space.
That superlative goes to the V-2 rocket
used by Germany in missile attacks
against Allied cities as a last-ditch effort
in the final years of World War II.
It wasn't very effective,
but, at the end of the war,
both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. had captured
the technology and the scientists that had developed it
and began using them for their own projects.
And by August 1957,
the Soviet's successfully tested
the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7,
the same rocket that would be used
to launch Sputnik two months later.
So, the scary thing about Sputnik
was not the orbiting ball itself,
but the fact that the same technology
could be used to launch a nuclear warhead at any city.
Not wanting to fall too far behind,
President Eisenhower ordered the Navy
to speed up its own project
and launch a satellite as soon as possible.
So, on December 6, 1957,
excited people across the nation
tuned in to watch the live broadcast
as the Vanguard TV3 satellite took off
and crashed to the ground two seconds later.
The Vanguard failure was a huge embarassment
for the United States.
Newspapers printed headlines like,
"Flopnik" and "Kaputnik."
And a Soviet delegate at the U.N. mockingly suggested
that the U.S. should receive foreign aid
for developing nations.
Fortunately, the Army had been working
on their own parallel project, The Explorer,
which was successfully launched in January 1958,
but the U.S. had barely managed to catch up
before they were surpassed again
as Yuri Gargarin became the first man in space
in April 1961.
Almost a year passed
and several more Soviet astronauts
completed their missions
before Project Mercury succeeded
in making John Glenn the first American
in orbit in February 1962.
By this time, President Kennedy had realized
that simply catching up
to each Soviet advance a few months later
wasn't going to cut it.
The U.S. had to do something first,
and in May 1961, a month after Gargarin's flight,
he announced the goal
of putting a man on the moon
by the end of the 1960s.
They succeeded in this through the Apollo program
with Neil Armstrong taking his famous step
on July 20, 1969.
With both countries' next turning their attention
to orbital space stations,
there's no telling how much longer
the space race could have gone on.
But because of improving relations
negotiated by Soviet Premier Leonid Breshnev
and U.S. President Nixon,
the U.S.S.R. and U.S. moved toward cooperation
rather than competition.
The successful joint mission,
known as Apollo-Soyuz,
in which an American Apollo spacecraft
docked with a Soviet Soyuz craft
and the two crews met,
and exchanged gifts,
marked the end of the space race in 1975.
So, in the end, what was the point
of this whole space race?
Was it just a massive waste of time?
Two major superpowers trying to outdo each other
by pursuing symbolic projects
that were both dangerous and expensive,
using resources that could have been
better spent elsewhere?
Well, sure, sort of,
but the biggest benefits of the space program
had nothing to do with one country beating another.
During the space race,
funding for research and education, in general,
leading to many advances
that may not have otherwise been made.
Many NASA technologies developed for space
are now widely used in civilian life,
from memory foam in mattresses
to freeze-dried food,
to LEDs in cancer treatment.
And, of course, the satellites that we rely on
for our GPS and mobile phone signals
would not have been there
without the space program.
All of which goes to show
that the rewards of scientific research and advancement
are often far more vast
than even the people pursuing them can imagine.