Most Americans remember or have been taught that, during the Cold War, the Communist Soviet Union put the first satellite into space, but that it was the United States NASA program that put the first man on the moon. What most people fail to remember is that the Soviet Union was not only responsible for putting a satellite into orbit, but was the first to put a living animal in space, put the first man in orbit, achieved the first space walk, and put a multi-manned capsule in space. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union was also the first to endure the first human fatality of the space race. As both super powers scampered to sacrifice money and lives to this Cold War cause, the Soviet Union seemed to be leagues ahead of the United Sates.
It all started on October 4th, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 (Click here, to listen to Sputnik I orbiting the Earth). It was a 23-inch metal sphere into with a mass of 83.6 kilograms and was designed to determine the density of the upper atmosphere and return data. Orbiting the earth at about 560 miles up, and at a speed of 18,000 mph, it returned signals, only decipherable by the Soviets, for 21 days. That was not all, Sputnik 2 was launched on November 3rd and carried a dog, Laika.  They were monitoring her vital signs in order to gain information for later manned missions. Several other Sputniks were launched to study the earth and provide information for future manned space missions.
These launchings were a shock to the United Sates. U.S. rocket scientists and aeronautical engineers were shocked because Russian scientists had hidden the fact that they had such a rocket machine. The actual satellite was not so scary as compared to the rocket that put it in orbit. The Soviets had the technology to build an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). 
The Russians also first tackled one of man’s most incredible feats on April 12th, 1961. Although this occurred shortly after the first human fatality of the space race, Russian spirits were still very high. Cosmonaut Valentin V. Bondarenko died in a pressure chamber fire that was covered up by Soviet officials. This did not stop Yuri Alekseyvick Gagarin from becoming the first human to enter space, when he completed one orbit in 108 minute space flight aboard Vostok 1. It was a victory of a long scientific effort in rocketry everywhere and the result of extraordinary preparations in Russia. Nikita Khrushchev openly threatened and bragged toward the West after this new sign of Soviet power. Yuri was promoted from lieutenant to Major before the flight and instantaneously became Soviet Union’s and the Communist party’s most praised hero.
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