The Sixties saw spaceflight change from being the subject
of science fiction stories in boys' comics into startling,
exciting, scientific fact. Prior to 1960 there had been a
number of experimental vehicles launched but flights involving
animals had been comparatively unsuccessful. Even when the
Russians managed to put two Samoyed dogs, Belka and Strelka,
into orbit for 24 hours in August 1960 and brought them back
alive it was still questionable whether manned spaceflight
would be possible.
The Russians are believed to have made four unsuccessful manned
space shots prior to 1961 in which it is thought that cosmonauts
Serentsky Schiborin, Andrei Mitkov, Alexis Ledovski and Ivan
Kachur lost their lives. The world suddenly became a much
smaller place on 12th April 1961 when Major Yuri Alexeyevitch
Gagarin blasted off in Vostok 1
at 07:07 hrs from the Baikonur site in Siberia to become,
shortly afterwards, the first man into orbit.
The United States and the U.S.S.R. spent huge amounts of money
trying to outdo each other in the 'race for space', a contest
which drove scientific advancement along at a phenomenal pace,
providing new materials and technologies such as 'Teflon'
and the laser. The spaceflight programme also brought us new
heroes, tragedy and excitement which peaked with the first
manned lunar landing on the Sea of Tranquillity at 09:18 BST
on 20th July 1969. Neil Armstrong became the first man to
walk on the surface of the moon at 03:56 BST on 21st July
1969, causing millions of us to stay up all night watching
the television reports and live picture coverage.