By INGRID WILGEN
Cold War competition between the world’s two superpowers, the United States and Soviet Union, led to a walk on the moon and GPS on smart phones.
The third annual International Observe the Moon Night brought stargazers to McAllister Park Sept. 18 where members of the San Antonio League of Sidewalk Astronomers set up telescopes for public viewing.
League member Nina Chevalier trained her telescope on the Sea of Tranquility, the site of the Apollo 11 landing and the July 20, 1969, moon walk by American astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Earth’s natural satellite.
“What Neil Armstrong’s family wants everyone to do is look up at the moon, wink at it, wave at it and say ‘thanks, Neil.’”
In response to the Soviet Union’s Oct. 4, 1957, launch of Sputnik-1, the first manmade satellite to orbit the earth, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created by Congressional legislation in 1958, History.com states.
That same year, the U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer 1, an Army project designed by Wernher von Braun, who led the team that developed the V-2 ballistic missile for the Nazis in World War II.
Just before Allied forces captured the V-2 rocket complex, von Braun organized the surrender of 500 of his top rocket scientists along with plans and test vehicles to the Americans.
They were sent to Fort Bliss outside El Paso to continue their work for the United States and the V-2 became the model for U.S. and Soviet missiles in the post-war era.
In 1959, the Soviets launched Luna 2, the first space probe to hit the moon, and in April 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit Earth, which galvanized the space race and prompted President John F. Kennedy to declare that the U.S. would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
In March 1961, the U.S. beat the Soviets with a test flight carrying chimpanzees, but the first American in space was Alan Shepard on May 5, 1961.
In February 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth and the Apollo project was launched.
Research and discovery became vital components of the space program that led to a multitude of scientific break-throughs that continually spurred improvements in medicine, technology and science.
Stargazer Jennifer Cleveland, 26, said when Armstrong took his famous first step she hadn’t been born and her parents were 14 years old.
Cleveland said she had not been inspired by the astronaut’s life until his death Aug. 25 at age 82. She said her contemporaries don’t know much about him.
“I think that whenever there is a big event in one generation, the next generation tends to take that for granted,” she said. “So, it is important to find ways to keep that alive in the succeeding generations so that there’s a connection, and that we never forget how important it was that he walked on the moon.”
League member John Kelly said, “The Apollo 11 mission brought about recognition from Congress that we had defeated the Russians and since this had been driven by the Cold War more than science, having won the contest, Congress rather quickly lost interest in the kind of level of funding of NASA and the various moon projects that had been the case in the decade of the 1960s.”
When NASA was created two secret national-security programs were also established to operate in cooperation with the space agency, History.com states.
The Air Force focused on the military potential for space travel and with the CIA focused on using satellites for intelligence gathering on the Soviet bloc and allies.
Today, the two former adversaries cooperate on the International Space Station.
According to Discover Magazine, Americans spend more money on pet food and tobacco products than what’s allocated in NASA’s annual budget.
NASA.gov states the organization receives one-half cent of every dollar in the U.S. federal budget.
Despite budget cutbacks and the end of the space race with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992, space exploration continues today on Mars and with deep space probes.