On October 4, 1957 the Soviets took the lead by launching the first man-made satellite into orbit called Sputnik I. This device was small metal sphere. It was little, and light. In fact Sputnik I only weighted 183.9 pounds. This device only use was to transmit radio signals from orbit. However, the American viewed the successful launch of Sputnik I as a threat. During the height of the cold war, Sputnik I was viewed as a tool capable of sending nuclear bombs to the United States. Many also saw the launch as a way of the soviets proving there technological superiority over the U.S. President Eisenhower realized America was losing it's position in the World, lagging behind the communists. This is the event that would commence the space race between the U.S. and the Soviets.
After Sputnik I, the Soviets quickly launched Sputnik II. What's interesting about Sputnik II is that it launched the first living dog to orbit. The dog's name was Lika, and the Soviets managed to send it in space and have it return safely back to earth. This further proved the Soviet superiority over the United States.
In January 1958, The United States finally managed to send there satellite into orbit successfully. This satellite was called Explorer I. This was a tremendous achievement for the U.S. However, the U.S. was still behind the Soviet Union. President Eisenhower recognized the Soviet supremacy in the space race and in 1958 Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Eisenhower noted that NASA was to be a historic step for the United States, and to promote America for advancing in the space race.
The Soviet Union had a tremendous lead on the U.S,. and the U.S. was lacking behind. The Soviet Union made this even more profound when in April, 1961, the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit. The satellite, and the dog, were nothing compared to the achievement of sending a man into space safley. Gagarin was the first man in the history of mankind to have ever leave earth, a Soviet. A month later in May, 1961, the U.S. sent Alan Shepard into space, the first American to be sent into orbit safley. Both Gagarin and Shepard were honored in there countries and around the world. However, the Soviets were still a leg up in the space race.
Before Gagarin, U.S. President Kennedy was not interested in space investigations. Kennedy would see the missions of NASA as overpriced, and not in the best thing for Americans. However, as he saw the reaction of the Soviets and the United States Gagarin and Shepard he knew action was needed. President Kennedy would later meet with NASA's Director, Wernher von Braun, with one mission: to be the first country to send a man to the moon.
JFK proposed his idea to congress about his plan, he wanted to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Kennedy was able to earn funding for NASA to follow his intriguing proposal. This funding given by congress allowed NASA to go on new projects. These projects included the Mercury Program which allowed astronaut John Glenn to orbit the earth, and project Gemini which accomplished to launch a craft with two astronauts inside instead of one, it see the first American, Ed White, to walk in space, and would accomplish the first docking of two spacecraft together in Earth's Orbit.
These projects aimed to getting the U.S. closer there main goal of putting a man on the moon. The Soviets achieved impressive projects as well; Alexi Leonov from the Soviet Union became the first person to walk in space for 12 minutes and 9 seconds, this occurred a few months before the U.S. accomplished it.
Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union completed many historic projects and missions. The United States put there full effort in putting a man on the moon, thus, the Apollo program was created. The first mission failed terrifically, and the result was the deaths of three astronauts because the command module caught on fire.
After every issue was solved for under the leadership of Wernher von Braun, NASA developed the Saturn V. The Soviets have created a rocket of there own, the NI-L3, led by Sergei Korolev; this rocket was also made with the intent to send a man to the moon, however, in 1966 Korolev died and the progress of the Soviet mission has stalled. On the contrary, on the American side the Apollo missions were progressing vastly.
In December, 1968 NASA successfully managed to send three astronauts around the Moon and return to Earth safely. Finally, on July 16th, 1969, The U.S. launched Apollo 11 into space, heading toward the moon. Inside Apollo 11 was astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. The trip was very dangerous, malfunctions were common, and the lunar module (nicknamed the Eagle) was forced to be landed manually. On July 20th, 1969, "The Eagle" successfully landed on the moon's surface.
Neil Armstrong and Edwin Buzz were in the Eagle while Michael Collins orbited the moon, securing Armstrong and Buzz departure safley. Armstrong stepped out in the moon becoming the first man to walk on the moon. A historic moment for the U.S. and mankind, a fifth of the world stopped to see the landing. There is where Armstrong said his most famous words, "that's one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind" (-Armstrong). Weeks before the U.S. moon landing the Soviets faced a large loss in their race to the moon, weeks before the American moon landing the Soviets suffered a major explosion in there NI-L3 rocket.
After the Soviet failure, and the Americans triumph, Soviet support to reach the moon diminished. America won the space race to the moon. The Soviet, instead of working on reaching the moon, worked on a different project: to build the first space station. The Soviets were successful in this, in 1971 Salyut I was the first space station in orbit. In 1973 the U.S. followed the Soviets achievement with there own space station known as Skylab.
However, interest in space missions were diminishing in the public, and President Nixon had no interest in continuing anything other than the space shuttle program. Relations with the Soviet Union and the U.S. increased, and in 1975 the Americans and the Soviets teamed together for a joint space station called Apollo-Soyuz. As the two crafts docked together, commanders of both ships shook hands, symbolizing the peace between the two nations. Above all, the landing of the moon has been considered as the greatest achievement in human history, and the space race eventually helped ease tension between the Soviet Union and the U.S.