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Digital Subscriptions > Ad Astra > 2019 - 2 > A FORGOTTEN FIRST: THE FIRST LIVING CREATURES TO LOOP THE MOON

A FORGOTTEN FIRST: THE FIRST LIVING CREATURES TO LOOP THE MOON

In the race to beat America to the Moon, the Soviet Union developed two different systems for lunar flight–one for landings, and another for lunar flybys. This story explains how the latter were successfully tested, but came too late to bring the Soviets glory in the space race.
The U.S.S.R.’s Luna 1 spacecraft.
Credit: Wikipedia
The un-crewed Zond lunar spacecraft.
Credit: Wikipedia

The space race began with the Soviet Union launching the first artificial satellite, called Sputnik, on October 4, 1957. While it was known in the West that the U.S.S.R. was working on rocket boosters, the timing came as a surprise.

The United States had been working steadily on a far less ambitious project called Vanguard, managed by the Navy. Vanguard was slow going; however, since President Eisenhower had insisted that the rocket be a “clean-sheet” design, the satellite would not be launched on the military booster then under development, the Atlas. Eisenhower wanted the Vanguard project, despite the Navy’s involvement, to be clearly branded as a peaceful effort, and the rocket was being developed from scratch. It did eventually launch after a number of failed attempts, but by then Sputnik had soared into the heavens and shocked the world.

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