Kuiper smiles in excitement in front of a Mercury test capsule

Early Days of the Space Race

Kuiper gets HYPED about Project Mercury at @stlsciencecenter.

Although Destination Moon has moved on from St. Louis, there’s still a ton to see at the St. Louis Science Center and James S. McDonnell Planetarium. This is Mercury Capsule number 19, produced here in St. Louis in 1962 by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (now @Boeing.) 20 capsules were manufactured by McDonnell for Mercury; Capsule 19 was the backup for Walter Schirra’s Mercury-Atlas flight on October 3, 1962. Schirra’s flight was the fifth manned United States space mission.

As discussed in the previous post, JFK first proposed landing on the moon to Congress on May 25, 1961. This was an UNBELIEVABLY ambitious goal at the time. Consider that his announcement occurred just 3 WEEKS after we put the first American in space, on May 5! Although successful, Alan Shepard’s flight on Freedom 7 lasted a mere 15 minutes and 22 seconds. We hadn’t even seen an American orbit the Earth yet; we’d have to wait til John Glenn’s flight on February 20, 1962.

Russia had killed two birds with one stone by launching the first man into space and orbiting him on April 12, 1961. Between Yuri Gagarin’s flight, the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, and the early failures of our Vanguard satellite program, the US wasn’t doing too well in the Space Race at its start.

Russia wasn’t only ahead of us with manned missions and satellite launches. At the time of JFK’s proposal to Congress, Russia had also already crashed its Luna 2 probe into the moon (September 14, 1959) AND captured the first-ever pictures of the moon’s far side with Luna 3 (October 7, 1959.) Due to numerous problems with the Ranger probe program, the US wouldn’t capture its own close-up images of the moon until Ranger 7 in 1964.

In his moon landing proposal, JFK acknowledged that “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.” However, he also noted, “For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last.”

Original post: https://www.instagram.com/p/BnXShmogarr/

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