history meme // war: space race
Gagarin reaches space
On April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin flew into orbit with the Vostok 1 and became the first man in space. The Soviets had once again beaten the Americans by mere weeks. Yet Gagarin’s flight, a driving impetus behind President John F. Kennedy’s May announcement that American astronauts would reach the moon by the end of the decade, was not as flawless as the Soviets claimed. Nearing the end of its orbit, Gagarin’s craft began spinning out of control. During the ensuing 10-minute panic, his commander, who was on the ground, scribbled in his notes phrases like “sudden impact,” “emergency situation,” and “Malfunction!!!” Gagarin himself would later confirm the near-accident, which remained hidden to the world for decades.
To many, the space race ended when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin set foot on the moon. This time, the Soviets were far behind. While the world marveled at the United States’ Saturn 5 “moon rocket,” which sent the astronauts’ Apollo 11 craft into space, the Soviets had secretly been working on their own version, the N-1. Although the N-1 failed to launch, the rocket engineer who led the program, Vasily Mishin, kept private diaries listing items and operations needed for a manned lunar landing. These included specialized tools, maps, and spacesuits. The Soviets had even built a prototype moon suit, called the Krechet (“Golden Falcon”).