“A Realistic Objective.”
~An Actual Section of a 1959 Proposal To Establish A Permanent Moon Base by 1966.
The Space Race was definitely one of the coolest and silliest parts of the entire Cold War. Two Superpowers were tossing around ungodly sums of money to try to make the other nation look stupid due to not being as good at making really cool toys, but it was dealt with an honest-to-God level of severity that equated “Russia going to the moon before we do” as being probably an inevitable lead up to complete nuclear annihilation.
Baby Boomers get a lot of (mostly deserved) flack for constantly complaining about how Millennials, and pretty much every younger generation, had it so much easier than they did and they take things for granted, but we’ll give them this—if we spent our entire childhoods with nuclear weapons literally pointed at our homes so often that we became this numb to the destruction of society, we’d probably feel it was within our rights to complain about how much people use smartphones now, too.
Anyway, when we talk about the existentially terrifying realities of the Cold War, the space race at least feels kind of innocent and, well, awesome. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the fact that we won (USA! USA!) but also because it was about science for the sake of invention, and not finding new, horrific ways to nuke each other into the stone age.
The two most powerful economies at the time spent decades funneling obscene amounts of money into discovering more about our universe, and even when that didn’t always end up as incredible achievements in space travel such as these bad boys, it still resulted in us exploring every planet of the galaxy while accidentally coming up with some useful technology that we use to this day like laptops, dustbusters, and whatever technologies are on the second page of the article we just linked (we were too lazy to get past the first page).
That is to say, the Space Race represented American (and, ugh, occasionally Russian) ingenuity and a passion for discovery that transcended the whole, “Holy shit, we as a species survived more than five years of Lyndon B. Johnson having the ability to nuke the entire planet” scariness of that era.
But the space race wasn’t all about peacefully sticking a middle finger in Communist Russia’s face by planting a flag on the moon and shouting, “FIRST!” We also had some sinister, if not very realistic, plans on using space for our military advantage. Like the time we tried to build a military base on the moon.