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#208: The Space Race

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Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walks by the footpad of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in July 1969
Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walks by the footpad of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in July 1969

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

(SOUND: Radio signals from Sputnik)

On a cold October day in nineteen fifty-seven, the Soviet Union launched a small satellite into orbit around the Earth. Radio Moscow made the announcement.

RADIO MOSCOW: "The first artificial Earth satellite in the world has now been created. This first satellite was today successfully launched in the USSR."

The world's first satellite was called Sputnik 1. Sputnik was an important propaganda victory for the Soviets in the Cold War with the United States.

Many people believed the nation that controlled space could win any war. And the Soviet Union had reached outer space first.

(MUSIC)

The technology that launched Sputnik probably began in the late nineteenth century. A Russian teacher of that time, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, decided that a rocket engine could provide power for a space vehicle.

In the early nineteen hundreds, another teacher -- American Robert Goddard -- tested the idea. He experimented with small rockets to see how high and how far they could travel. In nineteen twenty-three, a Romanian student in Germany, Hermann Oberth, showed how a spaceship might be built and launched to other planets.

Rocket technology improved during World War Two. It was used to produce flying bombs.

(SOUND: V-1 bomb)

Thousands of people in Britain and Belgium died as a result of V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks. The rockets were launched from Germany. The larger V-2 rocket had the ability to hit the United States.

After the war, it became clear that the United States and the Soviet Union -- allies in wartime -- would become enemies in peacetime. So, both countries employed German scientists to help them win the race to space.

(SOUND: Radio signals from Sputnik)

The Soviets took the first step by creating Sputnik. This satellite was about the size of a basketball. It got its power from a rocket. It orbited Earth for three months.

The Soviets launched a dog named Laika on Sputnik 2 in November 1957. She survived just hours.
The Soviets launched a dog named Laika on Sputnik 2 in November 1957. She survived just hours.

Within weeks, the Soviets launched another satellite into Earth orbit, Sputnik 2. It was much bigger and heavier than Sputnik 1. It also carried a passenger: a dog named Laika. Laika orbited Earth for seven days (but died after several hours.)

(MUSIC)

The United States joined the space race about three months later. It launched a satellite from Cape Canaveral, in the southeastern state of Florida. This satellite was called Explorer 1. It weighed about fourteen kilograms. Explorer One went into a higher orbit than either Sputnik. And its instruments made an important discovery. They found an area of radiation about nine hundred-sixty kilometers above Earth.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin before launch in April 1961
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin before launch in April 1961

The next major space victory belonged to the Soviets. They sent the first man into space. In April nineteen sixty-one, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched in the vehicle known as Vostok. He remained in space for less than two hours. He landed safely by parachute near a village in Russia.

Less than a month later, the United States sent its first astronaut into space. He was Alan Shepard. Shepard remained in space only about fifteen minutes. He did not go into Earth orbit. That flight came in February, nineteen sixty-two, with John Glenn.

By nineteen sixty-five, the United States and the Soviet Union were experimenting to see if humans could survive outside a spacecraft. In March, Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to do so. A strong tether connected Leonov to the spacecraft. The tether gave him oxygen to breathe. And it permitted him to float freely at the other end.

After about ten minutes, Leonov had to return to the spacecraft. He said he regretted the decision. He was having such a good time!

A little more than two months later, an American would walk outside his spacecraft. Astronaut Edward White had a kind of rocket gun. This gave him some control of his movements in space. Like Leonov, White was sorry when he had to return to his spacecraft.

Later that year, nineteen sixty-five, the United States tried to have one spacecraft get very close to another spacecraft while in orbit. This was the first step in getting spacecraft to link, or dock, together. Docking would be necessary to land men on the moon. The plan called for a Gemini spacecraft carrying two astronauts to get close to an unmanned satellite.

The attempt failed. The target satellite exploded as it separated from its main rocket. America's space agency decided to move forward. It would launch the next in its Gemini series. Then someone had an idea: why not launch both Geminis. The second one could chase the first one, instead of a satellite. Again, things did not go as planned.

It took two tries to launch the second Gemini. By that time, the first one had been in orbit about eleven days. Time was running out. The astronauts on the second Gemini moved their spacecraft into higher orbits. They got closer and closer to the Gemini ahead of them. They needed to get within six hundred meters to be considered successful.

After all the problems on the ground, the events in space went smoothly. The two spacecraft got within one-third of a meter of each other. The astronauts had made the operation seem easy.

In January nineteen fifty-nine, the Soviets launched a series of unmanned Luna rockets. The third of these flights took pictures of the far side of the moon. This was the side no one on Earth had ever seen. The United States planned to explore the moon with its unmanned Ranger spacecraft.

There were a number of failures before Ranger 7 took pictures of the moon. These pictures were made from a distance. The world did not get pictures from the surface of the moon until the Soviet Luna 9 landed there in February, nineteen sixty-six.

For the next few years, both the United States and Soviet Union continued their exploration of the moon. Yet the question remained: which one would be the first to put a man there. In December, nineteen sixty-eight, the United States launched Apollo 8 with three astronauts. The flight proved that a spacecraft could orbit the moon and return to Earth safely.

The Apollo 9 spacecraft had two vehicles. One was the command module. It could orbit the moon, but could not land on it. The other was the Lunar module. On a flight to the moon, it would separate from the command module and land on the moon's surface. Apollo 10 astronauts unlinked the Lunar module and flew it close to the moon's surface.

(SOUND)

After those flights, everything was ready.

Liftoff of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969
Liftoff of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969

NASA ANNOUNCER: "Twelve ... eleven ... ten ... nine ... ignition sequence start ... six ... five ... four ... three ... two ... one ... zero. All engines running. Liftoff.  We have a liftoff. Thirty-two minutes past the hour, liftoff of Apollo 11."

On July sixteenth, nineteen sixty-nine, three American astronauts lifted off in Apollo 11. On the twentieth, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin entered the Lunar module, called the Eagle. Michael Collins remained in the command module, the Columbia.

The two vehicles separated.

(SOUND)

It was a dangerous time. The Eagle could crash. Or it could fall over after it landed. That meant the astronauts would die on the moon.

Millions of people watched on television or listened on the radio. They waited for Armstrong's message.

NEIL ARMSTRONG: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

The Eagle has landed. Then they waited again. It took the astronauts more than three hours to complete the preparations needed to leave the Lunar module.

Finally, the door opened. Neil Armstrong climbed down first. He put one foot on the moon. Then, the other foot. And then came his words, from so far away:

NEIL ARMSTRONG: "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind."

STEVE EMBER: That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Man on the Moon. Oh, boy! Whew, boy!

RADIO COMMUNICATIONS: "OK, were gonna be busy for a minute."

CBS Television newsman Walter Cronkite shared the excitement that he and so many people felt as man first walked on the surface of the moon.

Years later, Cronkite would remember the historical significance (importance) of that moment in nineteen sixty-nine.

WALTER CRONKITE: "It's hard, I think, to imagine our emotions at the moment. It really was something that had to grip you. It was as if you could have stood at the dock and waved goodbye to Columbus. You knew darn good and well that this was the real history in the making."

Armstrong walked around. Soon, Aldrin joined him.

NASA RADIO COMMUNICATION: "They're setting up the flag now."

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the moon on July 20, 1969
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the moon on July 20, 1969

The two men placed an American flag on the surface of the moon. They also collected moon rocks and soil.

When it was time to leave, they returned to the Eagle and guided it safely away. They reunited with the Columbia and headed for home. The United States had won the race to the moon.

WALTER CRONKITE: "The thing that made this one particularly gripping was that sense of history -- that, if this was successful, this was a date that was going to be in all the history books, for time evermore. I think we sensed that at the time, sitting there at the Cape [Canaveral], watching that great beast get on its way, that this was it."

(MUSIC)

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION #208 -- American history in VOA Special English.

1957年10月一个寒冷的日子,苏联的一颗小卫星升空,进入地球轨道,莫斯科电台的节目里说:"第一颗人造地球卫星问世,苏联今天成功发射了第一颗卫星"。

世界上第一颗人造卫星被称为"卫星一号"。"卫星一号"的问世是苏联在冷战中赢得的一场宣传上的重大胜利。很多人相信,谁能控制外太空,谁就能打赢任何一场战争,而"卫星一号"让苏联在征服外太空的竞赛中先行了一步。

"卫星一号"升空利用的技术早在十九世纪末就出现了。当时的一个俄罗斯科学家康斯坦丁.齐奥尔科夫斯基觉得,火箭发动机可以为航天器提供动力。

二十世纪初,美国人罗伯特.戈达德对这种设想进行了测试,用小火箭做试验,看它们能飞多高,走多远。1923年,一个在德国的罗马尼亚学生赫尔曼.奥伯特展示了如何制造太空器,并将太空器发射到别的星球。火箭技术在二战期间进一步改进,被用于生产飞行炸弹。

二战期间,数千人死于德国的V-1和V-2火箭袭击。V-2火箭性能更好,能打到美国。二战结束后,战时的盟友美国和苏联成了和平时期的敌人,双方都雇佣德国科学家,帮助它们展开太空竞赛。

开始时苏联领先,成功研制出了"卫星一号"。"卫星一号"有篮球那么大,靠火箭助推升空,绕地球运行三个月。此后不久,苏联有发射了"卫星二号",体积和重量都超过了"卫星一号",上面还带了个特殊的乘客,一只名叫莱卡的狗。

三个月后,美国加入太空竞赛,从佛罗里达州的卡纳维拉尔角发射了一颗卫星,名叫"探险者一号",重约14公斤。"探险者一号"比苏联的"卫星一号"和"卫星二号"飞行的轨道都要高,"探险者一号"上配备的研究仪器还有了重大发现,在地球外960公里处发现了磁辐射带。

此后,苏联的"东方号"飞船1961年4月将苏联宇航员尤里.加加林送入太空,赢得了太空竞赛的又一大胜利。尤里.加加林是进入太空的第一人,他在太空停留不到两小时,在俄罗斯附近的一个小村庄用降落伞安全降落。

不到一个月后,美国宇航员艾伦.谢波德也成功完成了太空飞行。他在外太空只停留了大约15分钟,没有进入地球轨道,美国第一个进入地球轨道的太空人是约翰.格伦,他的飞行是在1962年2月完成的。

到1965年的时候,美国和苏联都在尝试,看宇航员能否走出飞船。1965年3月,苏联宇航员阿列克谢.莱奥诺夫成为第一个走出飞船的人,他通过一条结实的带子跟飞船连在一起,靠带子获得氧气,让他可以自由漂浮。大约十分钟后,莱奥诺夫回到飞船上,但是他事后感到很后悔,因为太空漂浮实在太奇妙了。

两个多月后,美国宇航员爱德华.怀特也走出太空船,而且靠着携带的装备,能更好地控制自己的行动。跟莱奥诺夫一样,他返回飞船后,也感到十分遗憾。

1965年下半年,美国让一个携带两名宇航员的双子座飞船设法在轨道内靠近一个无人控制的卫星,这是飞船在外太空对接的首次尝试,也是登月必须掌握的技术。

然而,目标卫星在跟主火箭分离时爆炸,让这次尝试以失败告终。美国航空航天局决定再试一次。这时候,有人提议发射两个双子座飞船,让第二个追第一个,而不是追一颗无人控制的卫星。

然而,这次行动也没那么顺利。第二艘飞船第一次发射不成功,等第二次发射后成功进入轨道时,第一个飞船已经运行11天了,时间所剩无几。第二艘飞船上的宇航员逐渐接近第一艘飞船,只有两艘飞船距离在600米以内,这次行动才算成功。

最后,两艘飞船之间的距离只有不到一米宽,宇航员的驾驶技巧让这次行动看上去十分简单。1959年1月,苏联人先后发射了一系列无人驾驶的月球火箭,其中三分之一的飞行拍到了在地球上看不到的月球的另一面。与此同时,美国也计划用无人驾驶的突击者宇宙飞船探索月球。

美国探索月球的计划先后几次失败,直到突击者七号才远远地拍到了月球的照片。人类得到从月球表面拍摄的照片,则要等到1966年2月苏联月球9号在月球着陆。

在接下来的几年里,美国和苏联继续月球探索,都希望成为第一个把宇航员送上月球的国家。1968年12月,美国发射了阿波罗8号,上面带着三个宇航员,这次行动证明,宇宙飞船可以绕月球飞行,并安全返回地球。

阿波罗9号有两个舱,一个是指挥舱,可以绕月球飞行,但不能着陆,另一个是登月舱,可以脱离指挥舱,在月球表面着陆。阿波罗10号宇航员成功地让登月舱跟指挥舱分离,飞到离月球表面很近的地方。

1969年7月16号,阿波罗11号带着三名美国宇航员升空。7月20号,尼尔.阿姆斯特朗和埃德温.奥尔德林进入名为"鹰"的登月舱,迈克尔.科林斯留在名为"哥伦比亚"的指挥舱里。两个舱成功分离。

当时情势很危险,登月舱很可能坠落,或是着陆时出问题,让宇航员性命受到威胁。数百万人在电视机或是收音机旁关注这一历史时刻,等待阿姆斯特朗的消息。

阿姆斯特朗说:"休斯顿,这里是静海基地,鹰已着陆"。鹰已着陆,让大家松了一口气。大家继续等待。宇航员花了三个多小时的时间才完成离开登月舱需要做的准备工作。阿姆斯特朗说:"这是个人的一小步,人类的一大步。"

当时现场报导这一历史事件的美国哥伦比亚广播公司的著名电视主持人沃尔特.克朗凯特多年后回忆说:"你很难想像我们当时的心情,这确实是一件深深吸引你的事件,好像是你本人站在指挥舱口,挥手向指挥舱告别。你清楚地知道,这是在见证历史。"

阿姆斯特朗在月球上行走一会儿后,奥尔德林也登上了月球,两人在月球上立起了美国国旗,并收集了月球岩石和泥土。随后放回登月舱,重返哥伦比亚指挥舱,回到地面。美国先于苏联登上了月球。

哥伦比亚广播公司的著名电视主持人沃尔特.克朗凯特当时说:"这次事件特别吸引人的地方就是它的历史感,如果登月成功,这一天将被永远地载入史册。"

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