By Amritapa Basu:
Most of us born into this GenX have known USA as the one and only superpower. Its competitive rivalry with USSR and the Cold War exists only in pages of history books for us. After World War II, USA and USSR fought bitterly and silently to make a mark in Space, (Space Race) just as two children fight for the window seat in a bus. Now that USSR has declined and the USA is the undeclared monarch of the world, we seem to have forgotten the First Man in Space. But thanks to the American brainwashing, we can never forget the First Man on Moon even in our death.
12th April, 2011 marks 50 years of man stepping into Space and Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin of USSR was the first man to do so. It was the first attempt to send a human being into the Space and Yuri Gagarin took up the risk, without knowing what fate awaited him. He went alone and after spending a definite amount of time, the then 27-year old-young man returned safely on Earth.
The Space Race formally began when Soviets launched Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957. To stay ahead in the race, USSR sent Laika, first living creature, into the orbit on November 3 of the same year but she died due to lack of oxygen. USA, which regarded itself as the world’s technological leader felt threatened at being outpaced by the Soviet leap into space. America’s first attempt to launch a satellite into the orbit failed. It was not until 1958, that Explorer 1 was successfully launched by USA. America suffered many failures and the whole world witnessed it due to their tendency to declare everything beforehand and their open nature. USSR, on the other hand, faced failures too, but the news was never leaked out. Thus their successes alone came to the limelight and they were ahead in the race. USSR again sent two dogs, Belka and Strelka, into Space in August 1960 and they were the first living creatures to return safely from their sojourn in Space.
The next leap was sending man into Space where again the USSR took the lead by rocketing Yuri Gagarin into the orbit by a Vostok on 12th April, 1961. USA followed suit by sending Alan Shepherd, the first American in Space, on 5th May, 1961. All in all, be it USA or USSR, 2011 celebrates man’s 50 years into Space. In 1961, President Kennedy set the USA the target of landing man on Moon by 1970 — before the USSR. And the rest is all history — on 21st July, 1969, Neil Armstrong set his foot on the moon and said the words we all know by heart — ‘A small step of Man, a giant leap for Mankind.’
In an age and era, when the Soviet is no longer a part of the race and USA launches a satellite every other day, when USA is the reigning leader in Space, when the world depends upon the GPS service by the USA, let us not forget the contributions of the Soviet in Space Technology. Neil Armstrong will remain our hero but in this 50th year, let us not forget the ‘small step’ taken by Yuri Gagarin which transformed in ‘giant leaps’ by the USA and pay him the tribute he rightfully deserves.