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Racing to the Moon

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The Race Begins
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Vostok and Voskhod
Mercury and Gemini
Space Suits
A Soviet Moonshot?
Apollo Lunar Suit
The Moon Rocket Challenge
The Moon Race Ends


Early U.S. manned spaceflights were spectacular successes:
  • May 1961--American astronaut Alan Shepard went briefly into space, but not into orbit, on the Mercury 3 mission.
  • February 1962--John Glenn spent five hours in orbit on Mercury 6.
  • June 1965--Gemini IV astronaut Edward White made the first U.S. spacewalk.

Although it seemed that the U.S. still lagged behind the U.S.S.R. in space, in reality the United States was following a methodical step-by-step program, in which each mission built upon and extended the previous ones. The Mercury and Gemini missions carefully prepared the way for the Apollo lunar missions.

John Glenn, first American in orbit.
 John Glenn
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NASA#: 62-MA6-60

The one-man Mercury missions developed hardware for safe spaceflight and return to Earth, and began to show how human beings would fare in space. From 1961 through 1963, the United States flew many test flights and six manned Mercury missions.
Mercury spacecraft
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NASA#: S62-04799

After Mercury NASA introduced Gemini, an enlarged, redesigned spacecraft for two astronauts. Ten manned Gemini missions were flown from 1964 through 1966 to improve techniques of spacecraft control, rendezvous and docking, and extravehicular activity (spacewalking). One Gemini mission spent a record-breaking two weeks in space, time enough for a future crew to go to the Moon, explore, and return.
Gemini spacecraft  Ed White's EVA
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NASA#: 65-HC-1260
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NASA#: 65-HC-362

Pointer John Glenn's Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7 and the Gemini IV spacecraft are displayed in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in the center of the Museum.

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