October 4th, 1957 marked the start of the space age, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I. The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory was the largest radio telescope in the world and the only device that could track Sputnik’s carrier rocket.
The Lovell Telescope picked up Sputnik on 11 October 1957 – on the anniversary of that date in 2015, Public Service Broadcasting filmed the video for ‘Sputnik’ in front of the iconic structure.
– Public Service Broadcasting - Sputnik’s video description
I’ve been really exploring the history of the Space Race recently. To mark the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, I spent most of October 4th reading about that era. Admittedly, I focussed on Apollo 1, 11, and 13.
In part, I was encouraged by Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race for Space album, which is why I’m linking it here. They use audio samples from archive footages to make their songs, and it really provides an insight into the time.
The whole album leaves me with a melancholy feeling. They present a great atmosphere of suspense, discovery, trepidation and hope.
I feel that The Space Race was one of the best portions of human history. Both the USSR and the USA were able to harness their war to produce marvels, many of which have not since been rivalled.
HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH
FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON
JULY 1969, A. D.
WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND
– Apollo 11’s Lunar Plaque
In particular, the song Go! inspires me. The engineering work behind NASA is simply astounding. The precision, the training, the knowledge. What they achieved with now-primitive computation technology boggles the mind.
Go! retells the story of Apollo 11’s landing, using actual audio recording from the mission control room. I can only imagine the fear and anticipation the people on the ground were feeling. Their decisions would reflect on their entire country, and would be remembered forever.
It was a tense situation - the Lunar Module was low on fuel. They had already landed at this point in training runs. Their guidance computer was overloaded as the rendezvous radar had been left on, and was triggering alarms. The Guidance Officer knew that the computer would prioritise the important processes, vital functionality built in by Margaret Hamilton.
He had to make this decision to ignore the alarms and go ahead quickly - they only had 60 seconds of fuel left. He and his team’s knowledge of the routine of this computer prevented a possibly catastrophic abort attempt. It’s for this reason that the “Go!” from Guidance is noticeably chirpier.
It gives me chills every time I hear Armstrong report: “Houston, uh, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
First Men On The Moon has a really, really great audio/video feed of the event, showing which station in the control room is talking. It’s very much worth a viewing.
Over 300,000 people worked to put men on the moon. It amazes me. Those are incredible numbers. I could only hope to one day be a part of such a valiant and just project.
At the same time, researching the Space Race makes me feel empty.
When I look at what the governments of the world are doing today, I just see discord and strife. My home country wants to end co-operation with the European Union. USA seems very isolationist.
The Space Race occurred during (and because of) the Cold War. Both sides used their conflict to produce amazing results, some of the brightest moments of humanity.
We’re in a period of relative peace and yet, when I look at what the governments of the world are doing today, I just see discord and strife, not progress and unity.
My home country wants to end co-operation with the European Union. USA has elected a very isolationist President. Space exploration and scientific study seem to have been forgotten.
It frustrates me that the West has left space progress to corporations like SpaceX, and Blue Origin. Only the Chinese Space Program seems to be making real progress to me.