There is some controversy about a new film omitting a shot of the United States flag on the moon. The United States flag belongs on the moon within the context that the United States is the only country to have put men on the moon. But…
Yes, there is a but…and it has nothing to do with the United States putting men on the moon and everything to do with context.
There is no doubt that men on the moon is an American achievement. Those that argue that the achievement is “uniquely” American are right, but with context.
The moon rockets were made possible because of Nazi scientists that were spirited out of Nazi Germany shortly after Word War II ended. The Nazi scientists were brought to the United States – in violation of American immigration law. The Nazi scientist were brought in through El Paso, Texas and taken to White Sands to continue their work on rockets.
The leading Nazi scientist was Wernher von Braun, a card-carrying fervent Nazi who created the first ballistic missile. Braun built his rocket expertise on the backs of slaves taken from Nazi concentration camps and put to work. As soon as the end of war was in sight, Wernher von Braun surrendered to Americans as soon as he could. Braun feared the Russians who were also searching for Nazi scientists.
Wernher von Braun led the program to build the Saturn V rockets that took the Americans to the moon. Eight other Nazi rocket scientists were also taken from Germany under the secret program known as Operation Paperclip. Their rocket expertise was essential to the moon landings.
But context also requires understanding that reaching the moon was a race between the Soviet Union (USSR) and America to prove which political process was best – Communism or Capitalism.
The Communists won all major space achievements, except for the moon landing. They were first in space with Sputnik. The Soviet dog, Laika, was the first dog in space. They put the first man in space, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. The Soviets put the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. The first spacewalk – leaving the space craft – was by Soviet astronaut Alexei Leonov. Salyut was the first space station. It was also launched by the Soviets.
The USSR was also the first to reach the moon with an unmanned probe. On September 14, 1959, the Soviet Luna 2 probe touched down on the moon.
The Soviets also reached Venus with Venera 1 in 1961. In 1971, the Soviets sent Mars 3 to Mars. Mir (1986-2001) was the first permanently manned space station.
The context that is important to remember is that the moon landing was the direct result of the Cold War battle between the Soviets and the Americans to be first to the moon. The technology to reach the moon was based on Nazi technology developed on the backs of slave labor. Although the moon landing is notable, it is important to remember that the Soviet Union accomplished many firsts before the Americans were able to catch up.
This becomes more important as we explore the reality of space travel in tomorrow’s post.