America in Space: 50 Years Anniversary

In early May 1961 — 50 years ago — the Cold War was at its hottest, and the United States needed a victory, an impressive one.

Three weeks earlier, on April 12, the Soviet Union had demonstrated its space and technology muscles by sending the first human into space – Jury Gagarin.

A week after that, the United States had suffered a humiliating defeat in the botched CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

And a week after that, President John F. Kennedy had received a memo from Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson with an audacious proposal:  The only way the United States could win the space race was by beating the Soviets to the moon by the end of the decade.

But that was contingent on an event that occurred 50 years ago this week: NASA’s launching the first American — astronaut Alan Shepard — into space.


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