It didn’t take long after the first space satellites made their way into the great unknown that we got the bright idea of sending a human off into space. The first astronauts hailed from both the United States, as well as Russia. They were test pilots that knew their way around planes that flew rather fast and under dangerous conditions. In 1961, the first human to travel to space was Yuri Gagarin of the USSR. One month later, Alan Shepard from the United States would follow.
Once it became apparent that humans could actually visit space, a sort of competition emerged between the United States and the Soviet Union. Who would be the first? With different goals in mind, the two countries set off to realize their outer space needs. On one side, you had the United States. Astronauts were more interested in seeing what was going on with the moon. However, the Soviet Union was more concerned with setting records in endurance and completing vital scientific research.
At the time, the Soviets were quite advanced in their space programs, which pushed the United States to better their own efforts. This is probably why the goal to land on the moon first was such an important achievement for the U.S. The desire to explore the moon before the Soviets even trickled into politics, as President Kennedy even gave a speech in 1961, challenging the country to send astronaut to the moon and make sure that he safely returned to Earth. Kennedy also stated that the task should be completed by the end of the decade. Was this goal met?
It took a variety of robotic space mission programs and human space flight testing, but with the help of such endeavors (like Mercury, Gemini and Apollo), the United States fulfilled their goal of landing a person on the moon before anyone else. The Apollo 11 mission achieved the successful campaign. Following the success of landing on the moon, the government lost interest in the space program and fewer mission were slated for the future. The space program started to dwindle down into scientific research rather than active space exploration.
Soon, a shift was seen, as NASA began to hire scientists over fighter pilots for their astronaut programs. However, more advancement came. In 1973, the first American space lab was sent into orbit for the purpose of conducting scientific tests. Between 1973 and 1981, the U.S. scheduled one or two human spaceflight missions. Eventually, great changes were seen that began in 1981.
The United States rejuvenated their human spaceflight program. A handful of new missions were planned that involved newly designed spacecraft , the space shuttle being one. A significant mission for the space shuttle was to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990.
As for the Soviets, they completed several different missions that tested out new spacecraft. They also became the first country to establish a space station. Over the years, they focused on a great deal of engineering-related tasks. They surpassed the number of hours that their space explorers stayed in space. They also conducted a lot of tests that offered insight on new ways to view medicine, engineering, and space.