One Small Step For Man, One Giant ‘One-Upmanship’ for the USA.
This feature first appeared in the Darton Arrrow in July 2019
On the 20th July 1969, fifty years ago this month, Neil Armstrong climbed out of the Apollo 11 space module, the Eagle, and became the first man to walk on the surface of the moon.
And with his simple statement, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he drew a defining line in the ‘space race’ between the USA and Russia during a very turbulent time. There had been a heightened tension between the world’s two great powers following the end of WW2 (Cold War), with ‘space’ becoming the dramatic arena in which the super powers could prove their technical superiority over the other.
Russia struck the first blow. On October 4, 1957, they launched an inter-continental ballistic missile called Sputnik (“traveller”), the world’s first man-made object to be placed into the Earth’s orbit. This came as an unpleasant surprise to the US as it meant that they had the technology to drop an atomic warhead on to the US mainland. By 1958, however, the U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer I. the same year that President Dwight Eisenhower authorised the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to be established.
In 1959 Russia launched the first space probe, the ‘Luna 2’, which was the first probe to hit the moon. But it was in April 1961 that the Soviets won the biggest accolade when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth in the Vostok 1. They beat the US by just one month for on May 5 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut in space. It was at this time that President John F. Kennedy made the bold, public claim that the U.S. would be the first Country to land a man on the moon and it would happen before the end of that decade. This established NASA’s lunar landing program – Project Apollo.
On July 16, 1969 with just five months to go, U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins set off on the Apollo 11 space mission, successfully landing on July 20; winning the ultimate accolade.
Following in their path, there were five subsequent Apollo missions that landed men on the Moon and one failure and possibly the second most famous spacecraft, Apollo 13, about which the dramatic film was made. This failed attempt nearly resulted in the death of the three man crew. As it was, all of the nine manned Apollo missions that flew, all returned safely to the Earth.
The Soviets had four failed attempts to launch a lunar landing craft between 1969 and 1972, including a spectacular launch-pad explosion in July 1969. In 1975, however, a new era of friendship started when a US and a Russian space craft, docked, with the commanders greeting each other with their “handshake in space”.
In 2009, The Chinese lunar orbiter Chang’e 1 carried out a controlled crash landing onto the surface of the Moon. Since then, the rover mission, Chang’e 3 soft-landed on 14 December 2013, as did its successor, Chang’e 4, on 3 January 2019. This was the first craft to land on the ‘Dark Side of The Moon’.