The Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957. For United States leaders, it was one of the chilliest moments of the Cold War as the Soviets had shown technical capabilities far more advanced than their own and expanded the “battlefield” not just to the sky, but outer space.
A year after the Sputnik launch, President Dwight Eisenhower and the U.S. Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in an effort to catch up – and hopefully pass – their Soviet rivals in the so-called “Space Race.” In the following years, NASA launched a sequence of programs – Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo – that would systematically check off all the steps needed to explore space. Mercury focused on getting a man into orbit. Gemini put two-men teams into space to perform spacewalks, separate sections of spacecraft, and safely link them together again. Apollo headed to the moon, and our world would change.