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Season Crew 1
On 4 October 1957, Soviet scientists launched Sputnik 1 - a beach ball-sized, radio-transmitting aluminium alloy sphere - into orbit. The satellite caused a sensation. Amid Cold War tensions, the Soviet Union’s accomplishment signalled a dramatic technological advantage and American felt it had little choice but to join the Space Race.
Then on 12 April 1961, the Soviets sealed their advantage when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. John F Kennedy, the newly elected president, was faced with the issue of how to respond. Two days later, he called a meeting to find an American space programme that would promise equally dramatic results. Rocket manufacturer, and former Nazi, Wernher von Braun, convinced Kennedy that the Americans could beat the Russians to the Moon before the decade was out and the Saturn programme was born.
Under von Braun’s leadership, America’s technology finally seemed to be catching up with the Soviet Union’s. On 5 May 1961, von Braun’s Redstone rocket successfully launched American navy test pilot Alan Shepard 116 vertical miles up into space. The American space programme grew rapidly.
On 20 February 1962, a marine colonel named John Glenn successfully orbited the Earth. Nasa and Wernher von Braun were at last delivering real results. Sputnik’s challenge and Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s groundbreaking feat had been equalled. But the young president would never live to see man walk on the moon. On 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Texas, Kennedy was assassinated and Cape Canaveral, home to US space exploration, was quickly renamed Cape Kennedy, in honour of the fallen visionary.Leggi di più
What exactly was it going to take for America to beat the Soviets to the moon? Cold War tensions persisted, as rumours circulated that the Soviets were preparing to send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon. Nasa quickly developed the Gemini program, sending astronauts into orbit around the Earth to practice critical manoeuvres for the eventual trip to the moon. Ed White became the first American to walk in space, an experience so exhilarating that, when Houston ordered him back in the space craft, he replied, ‘Not yet!’.
Nasa’s next-generation spacecraft, Apollo 1, was meant to dramatically launch the new era. Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were Apollo’s very first crew. On a cool January day in Florida, in 1967, the three men suited up for a pre-launch training run in the new command capsule. Two and a half hours through the training, somewhere in the closed capsule, a fire broke out. The hatch design opened inwards and all three men perished. Mission control was powerless. The disaster shook the nation and left the future of Apollo, Nasa and the entire race to the moon in doubt. The cost perhaps was too high.
In the aftermath of the deadly Apollo 1 fire, Nasa faced harsh scrutiny. The horror of the first casualties at Cape Kennedy led Americans to increasingly question the very premise of landing a man on the moon. Yet again, it was the Cold War that gave Nasa’s mission new urgency and life.
Amid concerns that the Soviets might exploit the hiatus to overtake the Americans, less than a year after the fatal Apollo 1 fire, the nation gathered on 21 December 1968, to watch as Apollo 8 lifted off and headed for the moon. Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman recalls, ‘My odds for mission success were a hundred percent. If I didn’t think I was coming back, I wasn’t going to go.’ The rest of America, Borman’s wife and children included, gathered nervously to watch the televised live broadcast as the Saturn V launched into orbit around the Earth and then took three men out of the gravitational pull of their home planet for the very first time.
As the American crew became the first to orbit the moon, footage and photography from Apollo 8 not only gave us images of the Earth’s satellite but an entirely new perspective of our world. Americans celebrated this unparalleled accomplishment. The space programme had turned a corner.Leggi di più
After the immediate celebration of 1968’s successful Apollo 8 mission, underlying questions about the space programme emerged with new intensity as politicized young Americans challenged the nation’s priorities. Nasa pushed brashly forward.
After the lunar orbit, competition escalated among the training astronauts. Who would be chosen for the first moon landing? In January 1969, Nasa ended months of speculation and announced the crew for Apollo 11. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would be in the craft that landed on the moon. They would be supported by Mike Collins in the command module. As ever, the Soviet Union loomed large over the new Nasa mission, scheduling an unmanned craft to land on the moon at approximately the same time as Apollo 11.
In mid-July, 1969, crowds flooded Cocoa Beach in anticipation of the historic launch and, on 20 July 1969, the biggest television audience in world history tuned in. Audiences watched simulations and listened to audio coverage with bated breath as Armstrong delicately piloted the lunar module, only to discover the landing site was a football field-sized crater. It forced him to hover the craft and look for a new site with just 30 seconds of fuel left. Finally, audiences heard the triumphant words, ‘The Eagle has landed.’ Mission control responded, ‘You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue - we’re breathing again.’
Viewers from around the world watched the flickering black-and-white footage from a camera placed on the module showing Armstrong gingerly stepping down its ladder. ‘OK, I’m going to step off the ladder now,’ Armstrong said. ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ Fifteen minutes later, Aldrin followed. Transparent, ghostly images of the suited figures projected back to Earth where crowds cheered, wept and fell speechless at the awe-inspiring sight of their fellow human beings on the moon.
The mission had one remaining hurdle: the ascent stage. With only one chance to fire the lunar module’s engine to safely reach Apollo 11, tension built once more. On 24 July 1969, to the intense relief of all involved, the crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Despite the public excitement leading up to and immediately after Apollo 11, interest in space vaporized with shocking rapidity. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation, to its scientists and to its pilots had been met - an American had walked on the moon before 1970. Rather than being a spark for further exploration, as von Braun had dreamed, the moon landing was the crowning jewel in the Cold War space race, commanding epic focus, resources and motivation.Leggi di più