Communism spread dramatically during the Cold War. Russia successfully introduced communism to many smaller, unstable countries. Cuba joined forces with Russia in the effort to advance communism around the world. Technology also advanced at breakneck speeds. The US and Russia raced to claim the title “First Country to Enter Space.” Russia won that race on April 12, 1961 when Yuri Gagarin entered space and orbited Earth. The US now needed a goal that would “better” the Russian success, and President Kennedy provided one — the first man on the moon!
Kennedy’s goal of space exploration included landing a man on the moon and safely returning him to Earth. He hoped that achieving this goal would bring the US out of the “status hole” it was in. The US sent the first American, Alan Shepard, into space on May 5, 1961. Even though this event took place less than a month after the first Russian manned space flight, Kennedy was concerned that the US was still behind in the technology race. He quickly proposed the construction of lunar spacecrafts and satellites for world weather and communications. Establishing these technological goals quickened the pace of space technology research.
Kennedy’s decision to accelerate the space program was not based solely on Russia’s head start in space. On April 17, 1961, a US sponsored attack on Cuba and Fidel Castro by a group of exiles failed miserably. The CIA had trained over 1,400 Cuban exiles for the amphibious assault on Cuba to oust Castro. The following attempt by the US government to conceal its involvement also proved unsuccessful. The diplomatic embarrassment motivated Kennedy to orchestrate a feat great enough to restore the US reputation.
The Russian head start in space had left the US months behind in research and training. This was another apparent reason why Kennedy felt the US needed a spectacular space event. If Russia’s space technology appeared more advanced than that of the US, the American people might think that the Russians could also possess superior military and/or nuclear technology. Although Kennedy and most other Americans did not fully know what the Russians had up their sleeve, they were determined to do something about it! As a direct result of President Kennedy’s ambitious leadership, the US prevailed and landed the first man on the moon on July 20, 1969. The successes of US space technology likely opened the door to today’s incredible advances in information technology.