The Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States experienced a significant ratcheting up at the end of the 1950s with the Sputnik Crisis, which saw the successful launching and orbit of the satellite Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union in 1957. This development was a key factor in the creation of NASA the following year by the United States as well as the investment of federal funds into national security and research and development.
An important milestone was achieved in the Space Race for the United States on 5 May 1961 when the first American travelled in space. The American astronaut, Alan Shepard, was only the second person to ever accomplish such a feat — the first being Russian astronaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin who made it to space only 23 days earlier than Shepard on 12 April.
Shepard’s space flight was part of NASA’s larger Project Mercury, which had the aim of getting a man into, and safely out of, Earth’s orbit. Project Mercury ran from 1958 to 1963; Shepard was one of the ‘Mercury Seven’: the name given to the seven astronauts involved in the project. His flight, Mercury-Redstone 3 (nicknamed Freedom 7 by Shepard), was the first manned flight of Project Mercury. The flight succeeded in entering space; however, reaching orbit was not achieved.
Despite this being an American program, and the Space Race being between the USSR and the United States, it garnered international attention and made headlines overseas. British newspapers were quick to cover the developments of Project Mercury and its astronauts.
The interest and excitement created by this manned mission resulted in Shepard making both the cover of The Sphere and the Illustrated London News!
For his accomplishment, Alan Shepard was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by President Kennedy.
Preparing for space
As you would image, a lot of preparation and planning went into getting Shepard successfully into space in the months and years leading up to his mission. These developments were likewise covered in British newspapers.
In preparing for human space flight, NASA went as far as sending animals into space. The Sphere wrote on the successful flight and safe return of a Rhesus monkey named Sam.
The Illustrated London News provided coverage of the retrieval of a space capsule used in a test flight in February 1961.
Part of the preparation for space travel included the space suit astronauts donned for travel. The Illustrated London News printed a piece on space suits new and old:
Astronaut John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. His space flight of Friendship 7 took place on 20 February 1962 and he succeeded in orbiting Earth 3 times. The Illustrated London News printed an image of Glenn’s pre-orbit preparations.
Later that year, on 17 November, The Sphere printed a piece on ‘the first five years and the next five’ of space travel and exploration. Included in this article was a timeline of events:
Man on the Moon
The crowning achievement of the Space Race was Apollo 11‘s successful moon landing, which brought three astronauts to the moon’s surface: Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, Jr.
President Kennedy was a driving force in the United States’ mission to get a man on the moon. In 1961, The Sphere reported on President Kennedy asking Congress for funds to put a man on the moon before 1970. The 16 July 1969 flight of Apollo 11 accomplished just that.
As with earlier developments, newspapers around the world were eager to cover the impressive feat of landing on the moon. The Illustrated London News printed images of the landing on 9 August 1969.
The Sky at Night
The public’s interest in space did not end with the Space Race; along with his BBC show of the same name, amateur astronomer Patrick Moore penned ‘The Sky at Night’ section of the Illustrated London News. His section even made the cover of the 1 November 1979 issue.