An infamous component of the Cold War was the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States. The space race began with the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4th 1957. Sputnik 1 was the first successful satellite. It orbited earth in 96 minutes. The Soviets capitalized on their success with the launch of Sputnik 2 on November 3rd, 1957 that included a canine passenger named Laika. Laika unfortunately died on her journey, but it was enough to shock the United States into action. The United States entered the space race by creating NASA soon after and launching their own animals into space: two female monkeys Able and Baker in 1958. Unlike Laika, both monkeys returned alive. The Space race would rage on until the 1970’s with the United States finally putting a man on the moon in 1968. The Soviet Union however, did not give up after the conclusion of the space race. Russia has continued with its space program throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Below are the twelve most important accomplishments and discoveries in space since the launch of Sputnik in chronological order: 1,2,3 I

1st Probe Sent to the Moon
September 14th, 1959

The Soviet Union launched the first probe to reach the moon, Lunik 2 in 1959. The probe actually did not “land” on the moon; it plummeted to the moon’s surface. However, before the probe crashed and blew up into a thousand fiery pieces, it relayed data that supported the existence of the moon’s magnetic field. The moon’s magnetic field is only external and is one hundredth the strength of Earth’s.

1st Man in Space and to Orbit the Earth
April 12th, 1961

The first man to ever orbit the Earth was the Soviet Yuri Gagarin in the spacecraft Volstok 1. After a successful launch, Gagarin orbited the Earth once in 108 minutes. He returned safely after being ejected from the capsule and then parachuting to the ground. The United States was horrified by the Soviet’s success and eventually put an American in space, Alan Shepard on May 5th 1961. Shepard only made a partial orbit of Earth. An American would not orbit our planet until John Glen on February 20th, 1962 embarked on a three orbit mission around Earth.

1st Space Walk
March 18th, 1965

The first man to ever “walk” in space was the Soviet Alexey Leonov, from the Voskhod 2 spacecraft. Leonov donned a space suit and “walked” in space for about 20 minutes before being forced to head back to the spacecraft. A tether line connected to the craft prevented Leonov from drifting off into space. Leonov started his walk above Africa and ended above Siberia. Leonov however was lucky to return. During his “walk,” he found that the pressure in his space suit had gotten so great that he could no longer bend his joints and could not enter the hatch of the ship. Leonov luckily was able to release some of the pressure, allowing him entry into the spacecraft. The Soviets had beaten the Americans again, even though the United States insisted that the Russian expedition was a fake. The United States as usual repeated the Soviet’s feat with Edward White’s walk on June 3rd, 1965 from the spacecraft Gemini IV. White’s walk was much longer than Leonov’s (36 minutes vs. the Soviet’s 12) and acquired clear distinct pictures.

1st Man on the Moon
July 20th 1969

By far the greatest achievement in space exploration was the United State’s iconic mission Apollo 11, which put Neil Armstrong on the moon’s surface. Apollo 11 was launched from the Kennedy Space Center and four days later landed on the moon. Shortly after landing, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “The Eagle has landed.” Six hours after reaching the moon’s surface, Armstrong and his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. The men took photographs, notes and placed a flag on the moon’s surface. Armstrong famously said about that [landing on the moon was] “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In one brilliant act, the United States had won the race to the moon against the Soviet Union. On July 24th, the astronauts landed safely on Earth.

1st Probe on to land on another planet (Venus)
August 17th, 1970

The Soviet’s Venera 7 was the first probe to ever land on another planet, which in this case was Earth’s sister planet Venus. Venus is known as Earth’s sister planet because it is close to the same size as Earth and has the same topography. Venus’s climate however, is much more dangerous than Earth’s. The air pressure on Venus is 90 times greater than that of Earth, which makes the surface temperature of Venus around 462.2°C. So the fact that Venera 7 was able to land on Venus successfully was a great accomplishment for the Soviet Union. The probe sent back signals for 23 minutes before dying out. The Soviets would continue to send probes to Venus until 1983.

1st Space Station
April 19th, 1971

The Soviets launched the first space station named Salyut 1, on April 19th, 1971. The station was 60 feet long and 12 feet wide. The next task for the Soviets was getting men into the space station. The first attempt was undertaken by the crew of Soyuz 10, but docking problems prevented them from ever entering the station. The next attempt, undertaken by the crew of Soyuz 11, was successful and the three men aboard the craft stayed in the station for 23 days. The three men however, did not live very long to enjoy their success. When the men were returning to Earth, their capsule opened prematurely, killing all three. The station returned to Earth on October 11th, 1971. The Soviets would eventually launch eight space stations up until 1983 when Salyut 7 was launched. The knowledge gained from the Soviet space-stations would pave the way for space research and provided the core design for the International Space Station.

1st Spacecrafts to Travel through the Asteroid Belt and Investigate Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune March 3rd, 1972 and April 5th 1973
The U.S. launch of Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 provided scientists with clear images of distant planets for the first time. Pioneer 10 launched in 1972, sent the first close-up images of Jupiter back to Earth. It completed its mission in 1997 and still sent radio signals back to Earth until 2003, when contact was lost. Pioneer 10 in 2005, was estimated to be 89.7AU away from the sun. Pioneer 11, launched in 1973, also reached Jupiter. It also sent back detailed images of Jupiter’s surface and determined the mass of Jupiter’s moon Calisto. Pioneer 11 then moved on to Saturn and, for the first time, discovered two of Saturn’s moons, Epimetheus and Janus. Other accomplishments of Pioneer 11 included close-up images of Saturn’s rings and the charting of Saturn’s magnetosphere and magnetic field. Pioneer 11 also determined that one of Saturn moons, Titan, was too cold to permit life and surveyed the Milky Way and the solar wind. At the completion of its mission in 1995, Pioneer 11 was estimated to be 6.5 billion km from Earth.
Image: “Pioneer 10”

1st Spacecraft to Reach Mars
July 20th 1976 and September 3rd, 1976

The U.S. launch of Viking 1 was not only the first spacecraft to reach Mars, but also remained active on the red planet longest, over six years. After its launch and a ten month journey, it landed on the surface of Mars. Viking 2 was launched a few months after Viking 1 and also successfully landed on Mars. The Vikings relayed many images of the Martian surface back to Earth. Most importantly, the Vikings also performed tests to determine if life was present on Mars, which included testing soil samples for organic chemicals. The tests however, did not prove anything.

1st Encounter of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all in one Journey
August 20th, 1977 and September 5th, 1977

A rare alignment of four of the planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in 1979 allowed a single ship to fly by them all in one journey. An alignment like this only occurs every 176 years. So the United States launched Voyagers 1 & 2 in 1977 to document this rare occurrence. Voyager 1 began taking data in 1979 on Jupiter, the first planet encountered on its journey. Voyager 1 showed that there was volcanic activity on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. Voyager 1 next examined Saturn closely. Voyager 2 successfully photographed all four of these planets, being the first spacecraft to do so. The two probes are still operational. Today Voyager 1 is the farthest manmade object from Earth and will soon leave our solar system. Both probes will be operational until 2025.

1st Spacecraft to Orbit Jupiter
October 18th, 1989

Unlike other missions, the Galileo spacecraft was launched from another spacecraft, the spacecraft Atlantis, in Earth’s orbit. Six years later it reached Jupiter. The Galileo probe was the first craft to orbit Jupiter and to investigate its atmosphere. In addition, the probe also discovered the first asteroid moon and conducted the first asteroid flyby. The probe also showed that there are ammonia clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere and that Io, a moon of Jupiter, has 100 times more the volcanic activity than Earth. After completing its 8 year mission, scientists worried that the probe could contaminate Jupiter’s moons with bacteria from Earth, so they crashed the probe into Jupiter where it was destroyed.
Image: “Galileo Spacecraft”

1st High-Powered Space Telescope
April 24th, 1990

The Hubble telescope was designed as a high-powered telescope that could relay back to Earth detailed images of distant planets and constellations. However, soon after its launch in 1990, the telescope’s designers realized that they had miscalibrated one of its mirrors, rendering it useless. To fix thi
s mistake, shuttle missions were sent to work on the Hubble. Finally in 1993, the Hubble became functional. Striking images returned from the Hubble telescope have provided scientists with a clearer view of our solar system and that which lies beyond. Most importantly, the telescope was able to predict the rate of the universal expansion; called Hubble’s constant, to within 10% error. Before the telescope was available, the error of this constant was 50%. The telescope has also provided evidence for the existence of black holes in the universe. Additional servicing missions have been conducted over the years to update the Hubble with modern technology. The next servicing mission is planned for May 2009. 1,18
Image: “Photo taken by Hubble Telescope”

1st Rover Sent to Another Planet
July 4th, 1997

The Mars Pathfinder mission was a small robot, the size of a microwave oven, to survey the Martian landscape on a much lower budget than other Martian missions. It was launched from the spacecraft Delta II in 1996 and was propelled by a unique air-bag system. The rover landed on Mars after a seven month journey and then conducted numerous spectrometric tests on rock and soil samples. Martian rock contained all of the elements in large amounts with the exception of Hydrogen. The rover exceeded expectations and collected data for three months before contact was lost. The success of the Mars Pathfinder paved the way for subsequent rover-research missions, most importantly the expeditions of Sprit and Opportunity, which were launched in 2003.

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