Category Archives: USSR

The Race to the Moon

May 25, 1961 in a speach to joint Houses of Congress, JFK proposes sending a man to the moon:  “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out,
of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish… ..This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always  characterized our research and development efforts.”


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Filed under 1960s, International, Space Race, USSR

Gary Powers released from Soviet prision

February 10, 1962 – Pilot and CIA Operative Gary Powers is returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union.

Powers, piloting the secretive U2 spy plane, was shot down by Soviet missiles on May 1, 1960.  The US first reports a “weather plane” had been reported missing only to be embarrassed when they learn that not only had the pilot survived and was captured, but the aircraft had been recovered largely intact.  It is learned that the US had been conducting spying missions since 1956 and the Soviets knew about them but lacked the technology to stop them.

Furthermore, Powers had in his procession not only a survival kit, but also 7500 Soviet rubbles and “jewelry for women.”  The Cold War escalated when it was proven that the US had been spying on the Soviet Union.  Tried and convicted as a spy, Powers was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  Later Powers, along with an American student Fredric Pryor, is swapped for Soviet Spy KGB Colonel Vilyan Fisher.  He worked for Lockheed, manufacturer of the U2, as a test pilot from 1963 until 1970.  In 1970, he co-wrote a book called Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident. It is rumored that this led to his termination from Lockheed due to negative publicity for the CIA from the book.  He became a helicopter pilot for Los Angeles TV stations and died in 1977 at age 47 covering fires in Santa Barbara when his helicopter ran out of fuel.  Parts of the US Spy Plane remain on display at a Moscow museum.  Throughout the 60s and 70s, the name Gary Powers was well-recognized.  His capture by the Soviets was a major embarrassment to the US as undisputable proof that we too were spying.  Eventually other battles in the Cold War overshadowed his name and today is rarely mentioned outside history class.

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February 3, 1966 – The Space Race is now in full gear and the Soviets achieved another first by safely landing a spacecraft on the surface of the moon.

The Soviet Space Program had achieved a series of firsts including:

  • the first satellite (Sputnik 1),
  • first animal (Laika the dog),
  • first man (Yuri Gagarin),
  • first woman (Valentina Tereshkova),
  • the first spacewalk (Alexey Lenov),
  • the first impact on the moon (Lunik 2),
  • and the first images from the dark side of the moon (Lunik 3).

The Soviet Lunik 9 was a soft landing and produced the first image ever transmitted from the lunar surface.  It weighed just over 200 pounds and landed at about 34 mph in a hermetically sealed bag.  It’s landing proved the lunar surface was able to support a spacecraft that did not sink into the lunar soil.  The four petals that covered the top half on the craft opened to stabilized the craft and the antennas moved into position and began to survey the area.  For unknown reasons, the first images transmitted back to earth were not immediately published by the Soviets, and the British rushed to intercept and publish them.

In the race to the moon, this achievement gave the Soviets another psychological victory and the Americans struggled to keep up with Soviet striving to surpass them hopefully winning the Cold War. Slowly the tide would turn, and the American Apollo Program would take the lead.

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Filed under 1960s, Space Race, Technology, USSR