Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Who won the space race? - Jeff Steers

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On October 4, 1957,

the world watched in awe and fear

as the Soviet Union launched Sputnik,

the world's first man-made satellite,

into space.

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,

shook hands,

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,

increased dramatically,

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.

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