Space science and spacecraft history is a broad subject. Their early development led to what was dubbed as a Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union.
On October 4th, Sputnik 1 launched, marking the first artificial satellite ever to reach Earth and sparking fears of a new Cold War.
Neil Armstrong takes “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.
The Development of Rockets
Rockets first made their debut in China around 1000 CE, shortly after gunpowder. Though initially employed mostly as fireworks and weapons of war, rockets eventually gained widespread interest due to Jules Verne’s depictions of rockets leaving Earth and landing on the moon and sparking widespread interest in space flight.
Sir William Congreve of Britain performed experiments using iron-cased projectiles that could be stick-guided, providing users with more precise control over their path. These early rockets used stick navigation.
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published what has come to be known as the “Rocket Equation,” which linked an object’s speed and mass to its propellant system’s thrust and fuel consumption, driving rocketry’s subsequent rapid developments. Between 1950-1960s American and Soviet engineers competed to design rockets that would enable their respective nations to become first into space first; this race became known as The Space Race.
World War II
The Second World War was an immense global conflict that engaged most major nations of the world from 1939-1945, lasting from 1939-1945 and killing millions. Fought between Germany, Japan, Italy (Axis) and Allies (Britain France United States Soviet Union).
Most spacecraft are powered by rocket engines that blast hot gases in opposite directions to propel them. Launch vehicles provide them with initial velocity needed to escape Earth’s gravity; once reached, spacecraft then separate from launch vehicle and either enter orbit or head further out into deep space.
Manned spacecraft are equipped with crew compartments and life support systems, enabling them to fly in space, transport cargo, and conduct research. Manned spacecraft may either be reusable (such as the Space Shuttle) or designed to only be used once (such as Soyuz). Reusable manned spacecraft generally feature modular designs; with one reentry module housing crewmembers while another serving as propulsion, power, and life support modules.
The Soviet Union
Spacecraft are vehicles designed to travel through outer space. Their primary function is transport, though other applications include communication, Earth observation, meteorology research, and even planetary exploration. All spacecraft require an additional rocket as their means of entering orbit.
In the early 1950s, Soviet space exploration saw rapid advancement. They launched Sputnik 1 artificial satellite and on 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became first human in space.
The US responded by launching Alan Shepard aboard Mercury-Redstone 3 (or Freedom 7), on what became the inaugural pilot-controlled spaceflight. Later that same year, Luna 2 achieved its mission of sending living creatures into space: two dogs named Belka and Strelka from Soviet craft Luna 2. Meanwhile, automatic robot Lunokhod 1 landed on the Moon for the first time; these achievements marked an extraordinary era in space exploration before its collapse in 1991.
The United States
After World War II, numerous German rocket scientists immigrated to both Russia and America after WW2, helping both countries catch up in the postwar Space Race. Of particular note was Wernher von Braun who designed and popularized space travel through Disney films by creating Saturn V rocket that sent people to the moon.
In 1959, the US launched Project Mercury with the intention of sending astronauts into space. Unfortunately, however, tragedy struck early: three astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died when fire spread through their Apollo 1 command module on its launch pad on January 27.
On April 11, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the Moon. Also during that month, Soviet spacecraft Luna 16 returned soil samples from lunar surface while American probe Mariner 9 became first craft ever to orbit another world, in this instance Mars.