First space explorations

Space exploration belongs to our recent history. In fact, 2007 marked the first fifty-year celebrations of the launch of the Sputnik , the first artificial satellite. On the 4th of October 1957, Radio Moscow announced that the USSR had successfully launched a 59 cm diameter sphere, weighing 83 kg into orbit.
For America it was a severe blow, as it was technologically inferior, and it did not have missiles that could launch objects of that weight so far.
The American reaction was soon seen: on 31 January 1958 a missile, Jupiter, of the army, designed by the German scientist Werner Von Braun, the inventor of the V2 missiles of World War II, launched the first American satellite, called Explorer 1, into orbit.
Starting from the 60s, the USSR concentrated its efforts in the design of satellites orbiting around the Earth, of the Vostok series, which culminated with the announcement, on 12 April 1961 , of the first astronaut, Major Yuri Alexievic Gagarin, to orbit the Earth. The Vostok series continued, and in particular, on 16 June 1963, Vostok 6 was the first to carry a woman on board: Valentina Tereskova.
In the meantime, starting from 1 October 1958, the Americans created the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and started the Mercury programme, that launched astronaut Alan B. Shepard in the first suborbital flight on 5 May 1961.
On May 25 the same year, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech, presented as a “Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs”, in which he presented the Apollo programme. The part of the speech that drew the attention of the Americans most, concerned space exploration, “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…”.
The programme certainly involved many dangers: on 27 January 1967 during a test run on ground, a fire broke out inside Apollo 1, and all the members of the crew died. The programme was started again one year later, and continued up to Apollo 11, with Commander Neil Armstrong on board, together with pilots Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin. At 4:57 (Italian Standard Time) on July 21, Armstrong first set foot on the surface of the moon, and uttered the famous sentence, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.
The Apollo series continued up to 1997 with Apollo 17, some missions orbited around the Moon without landing on it, others, such as Apollo 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17, instead, visited its surface.

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