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Racing to the Moon

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


Spaceflight is risky. The exploration of space has not been accomplished without loss of life.

In January 1967, during training for the first Apollo mission, astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee died when a flash fire erupted in their spacecraft on the launch pad. U.S. manned flights were halted for almost two years while the Apollo spacecraft was redesigned.

In April 1967 the flight of Soyuz 1 ended in tragedy when the capsule's descent parachute failed to open. Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died in the crash landing, and the next manned Soyuz flight was delayed for 18 months.


Among the items left on the Moon by the Apollo 15 crew was a small memorial to the astronauts and cosmonauts who had lost their lives in the quest to explore space. Replicas gift of the artist, Paul Van Hoeydonck

plaque on Moon
313 k jpeg
NASA#: 71-HC-1146


When the race to the Moon ended, the Soviet and American manned spaceflight programs moved in other directions. In the United States, many expected the Apollo missions to be the beginning of an era in which humans would move out into space, to bases on the Moon and space stations in Earth orbit, perhaps on to Mars. Others questioned whether costly manned spaceflight should continue, now that the race was won.

Apollo 17 scene Full moon, Apollo 17 Apollo 17 scene
204 k jpeg
NASA#: 75-HC-159
222 k jpeg
NASA#: 72-HC-978
134 k jpeg
NASA#: AS17-137-21011

For the Soviets, the competition with the United States did not end when they began to pursue longer-term goals, such as establishing a permanent presence in space with a series of Earth-orbiting space stations. They also sent automated probes to explore the surfaces of Venus and Mars.
For many Americans, landing on the Moon ended the Space Race. Effort shifted to other programs as the last lunar mission, Apollo 17, was completed in 1972. In 1973 and early 1974, U.S. astronauts occupied Skylab, an experimental space station adapted from Apollo hardware. The focus in the 1970s was on developing a new vehicle--a reusable Space Shuttle--for future human missions in Earth orbit. The United States also sent robotic explorers to Mars and the outer planets.

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