The United States has always had a tendency to be relentless in competing with other nations. When the Soviet Union left the world speechless with huge advances in rocket technology, that tendency turned in to obsession.
With the cold war at its chilliest, the United States took drastic measures to achieve innovative greatness and break barriers with the launch of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) on this day in 1958.
Russia was the icebreaker in the space race, with the famous launch of Sputnik I on October 4th, 1957 into orbit. The compact beach ball-sized 183-pound satellite circled the earth and orbited the planet within 98 minutes. Salt was rubbed in the wound when a subsequent satellite, Sputnik II, loaded with a dog named Laika, was thrown into orbit in November of the same year.
Due to still-tense relations with the Soviet Union, fear arose of possible Russian advancements in rocketry allowing for U.S. bombardment from Europe. That, coupled with the embarrassment of being a runner-up in the space race, the United States scrambled to match the Soviets.
The Eisenhower administration was unsuccessful at the onset. In December of the same year, a test satellite known as Vanguard got off the ground but promptly crashed with a disappointing explosion.
In late January of 1958, the U.S. tied up loose ends and rapidly cobbled together another trial with the successful takeoff and orbit of Explorer I. Along with marking a remarkable progression and entry into the space race, legislation was passed by Congress establishing NASA later in the year on this day in history.
Following the legislation, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy set a nationwide goal for man to set foot on the moon by the end of the decade.
Finally, after pouring billions of dollars into the project, on July 20, 1969, 9 days before NASA’s 11th birthday, Apollo 11’s famed Neil Armstrong burnished a man’s footprint on the moon’s rock-strewn surface for the first time in human history, marking a definitive milestone in the space race.
NASA continues to explore and make new discoveries, most recently the findings of TRAPPIST-1, a solar system, not unlike ours and within relatively close proximity, presumably holding a handful of habitable planets. The race continues!
The United States may experience failure and strife, but will continue to carry on by breaching the impossible, reaching for the stars, and planting the proud American flag on the cusp of frontiers heretofore uncharted.