The race for achievement
Until 1965, the Soviet Union was always one step ahead of the United States: it sent the first artificial satellite (Sputnik) into orbit in 1957, then the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin (1961).
However, NASA, backed by the formidable research capabilities of the American high-tech industry, methodically carried out its programmes to prepare for a manned flight to the Moon (Mercury, Gemini), in order to meet the challenge set by President Kennedy in 1961.
The Apollo programme benefited from the extraordinary rise in technologies coming from the third industrial revolution (electronics, information technology, and telecommunications).
It was the team of Wernher von Braun – who became a naturalised American in 1955 despite his previous membership of the Nazi party – that designed the gigantic Saturn V rocket responsible for putting the spaceship into orbit before its trip to the Moon.
Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on lunar soil on 21 July 1969. This would remain one of the most important dates of the 20th century.