Top 10 Lesser Known Facts About the Space Race

We all know about that battle for supremacy between the United States and Russia that accomplished almost nothing in terms of humbling the loser, but still is a very important event, not just for the United States and Russia, but the rest of the world as well.
The Top Ten
1 The first Russian astronauts were dogs

Okay, let me be clear: I'm not saying anything derogatory about Russian astronauts! I'm just including astronauts that weren't humans. If you know about the United States using monkeys as test subjects, well, our Russian counterparts used dogs. Mostly because they are less intelligent than primates, more obedient, and needed far less training than monkeys. So, technically speaking, yes, the first Russian astronauts were dogs.

An interesting fact: Even six years before the flight of Laika, on August 15, 1951, the dogs Dezik and Tsygan made a successful suborbital flight with a maximum flight altitude above the Karman line (110 km). A number of other dogs made flights between 1951 and 1960.

2 The Space Race is older than we think

If you were to look up "when did the Space Race begin," your answer would probably be 1955, specifically August 2, 1955. Truth be told, the Space Race dates back all the way to the late 1800s! It all started with the Soviet space program and a Russian movement called the Cosmists, which focused on the future of the cosmos and mankind. The Cosmists influenced a Russian scientist named Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who was the first man to calculate that it is possible for humans to reach outer space.

3 Russian astronauts peed on buses to pay tribute to Yuri Garachin, the first man to go into space

Yes, I am unfortunately talking about human astronauts, not dogs. Sergey Prokopyev set this trend in motion and was the founder of it, you might say. From then on, when the bus transporting Russian astronauts in the Space Race (and possibly in the present day) would stop, male astronauts would pee on the back-right tire of the bus. As for females, they would do likewise but would bring their urine in vials to spray on the tires. Gross.

4 Alan Shepard played golf on the moon

American astronaut Alan Shepard made history in the cosmos when he decided to take a few swings of the club on the Moon as part of the Apollo 14 mission. He hit two golf balls across the surface of the moon. Space fanatics have debated for many years how far the second ball went. We now have an answer, thanks to the efforts of Andy Saunders, an image specialist. His second ball traveled about 40 yards. The first one went roughly 24 yards, if anyone cares.

Playing golf on the moon sounds fun, but I have a feeling that the moon's gravity would be a disadvantage.

5 Buzz Aldrin took his historic steps sloshing in urine

Urine gave us some pretty good lesser-known facts about the Space Race. It kind of feels like the theme. When Aldrin landed the Apollo 11 lunar module, he landed it so softly that the module's legs compressed, despite not being designed to do so. The result would have been a small step from the module if the legs hadn't compressed, but instead, Buzz Aldrin took a giant leap. In the shaking of that surprising leap, Aldrin's urine collection device became dysfunctional. So, instead of going into the device, the urine went into one of his boots. That's how Buzz Aldrin's historic steps on the moon went. No wonder this is a lesser-known fact about the Space Race.

6 The Gemini Capsule "Molly Brown" was named after a survivor of the Titanic

How Gus Grissom named the Gemini capsule from the mid-1960s "Molly Brown" is a long story. His previous two-man spaceship, Liberty Bell 7 Mercury, had sunk about 90 miles northeast of the Bahamas in 1961. When NASA asked him to change the title for the next ship, he suggested The Titanic. NASA wouldn't go for it, considering what happened to the boat called The Titanic, so they dubbed it Molly Brown. The ship was nicknamed "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," as she was a survivor on the Titanic who tried to convince her lifeboat to search the remnants for more survivors.

7 The United States used Corona to photograph Russia for 12 years

From 1960 to 1972, using a reconnaissance operation with the code name Corona, the United States regularly photographed the USSR from space. The Corona operations were as challenging as sending men to the Moon, but whether they were considered a success or not is unknown. Corona was primarily a response to the fear of the USSR's secrets and nuclear weapons. The President of the United States and Congress had one urgent question: What were the Soviets doing in secrecy? Corona was our way to find some answers.

8 Human cosmonauts had to watch White Sun of the Desert the evening before launch

Russia has more unusual traditions for astronauts than just peeing on bus tires. One of those traditions is watching a film the day before liftoff at the Cosmonaut Hotel. They've never changed the movie. It's always "White Sun of the Desert." No one is quite sure why this 1970s Soviet-era film is always watched, but it probably dates back to Soyuz 12 in 1973. Russian astronauts Vasily Lazarev and Oleg Makarov watched the movie before their mission. This mission followed the tragic Soyuz 11 flight two years earlier when the vessel lost pressure as the crew prepared to return to Earth's atmosphere, killing all three astronauts. Soyuz 12 was successful, and the movie seemed to be a good luck charm. For over fifty years, the Soyuz has never lost any crew members.

9 Russia was the first nation to put a man in orbit

Yeah, we give the credit for the first man on the moon to Neil Armstrong, but the first man to go into orbit was Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, on the vessel "Vostok 1," also making him the first human to travel into space, even if the destination was not as distinct as the moon. While in space, Yuri orbited the planet in about 89 minutes. Vostok 1 orbited Earth freely but was guided completely by automatic controls. The only thing Yuri Gagarin said during his time was, "Flight is proceeding normally. I am well."

10 Russia was the first nation to launch a satellite into space

This happened on October 4, 1957. The first satellite sent into space was Sputnik 1, or just Sputnik. This accomplishment astounded and scared the American people, who felt technologically superior to the USSR at the time. This was the wake-up call that the United States needed if they were indeed falling behind technologically. Americans were wondering about all the potential harm Sputnik could bring. After President John F. Kennedy decided it was in his best interest to ensure Americans felt safe from the Soviets and to give the Soviets competition, the Space Race became a serious endeavor.

The Contenders
11 Russia planned to land a man on the Moon
12 United States effectively “won” the space race
13 Russia was the first to land a human made object on the moon
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