In workplace for lower than three months, Kennedy was going through down what he and his advisers suspected to be an untrustworthy Central Intelligence Agency.
He would affirm his suspicion towards the tip of the month, when Cuban rebels bankrolled by the company invaded their Communist-held homeland. At a gathering with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and others on April 12, Kennedy had burdened he wished the invasion to be a Cuban operation as a lot as doable, and the CIA assured him that the rebels have been as much as the job.
The outcome, every week later, was the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a army and political catastrophe that might solely embolden Fidel Castro and his chief benefactor, the Soviet Union.
Kennedy blamed the Soviets for his dangerous April. In his inaugural handle in January, he made an overture to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, inviting the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to affix the United States in “exploring the stars.”
Khrushchev’s reply got here 60 years in the past, on April 12, 1961, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin circled the Earth aboard a spacecraft known as Vostok 1. After parachuting from the craft close to the Russian village of Smelovka, Gagarin landed a hero — and a significant embarrassment for the United States, already stung by the Soviet first-in-the-race launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite tv for pc 4 years earlier.
The CIA reported, precisely, to President Dwight Eisenhower that due to Korolev’s highly effective fleet of intercontinental missiles, the Soviets can be able to put a satellite tv for pc into space by 1958.
The Soviets have been forward of schedule by three months. And with Sputnik, as Tom Wolfe wrote in his frenetic traditional of the space race, “The Right Stuff,” “a colossal panic was underway, with congressmen and newspapermen leading a huge pack that was baying at the sky where the hundred-pound Soviet satellite kept beeping around the world. … Nothing less than control of the heavens was at stake.”
Emboldened by the success of Sputnik, Korolev requested Khrushchev for permission to ship “biological materials” into space. He had an extended historical past of lofting canine into the sky on large rockets that had an unlucky tendency to blow up on liftoff. But in August 1960, one in all Korolev’s new era of rockets lifted off with two canine, 40 mice, a rabbit, a pair of rats, and a bottle stuffed with fruit flies — and this menagerie orbited Earth 18 instances. All returned alive, after which Korolev prolonged his “biological materials” to incorporate people.
He started screening Soviet army pilots, hundreds of them. The American astronauts in the competing Mercury program could have joked about being “Spam in a can,” but it surely appears clear that Korolev wished to have loads of cosmonauts readily available in case one other rocket blew up.
Enter Yuri Gagarin, who ticked all of the containers: He was the son of a carpenter who grew up on a collective farm and had survived the Nazi occupation — although, it might emerge, he was traumatized by the expertise, which included the tried execution of his 5-year-old brother.
Gagarin had gone to commerce faculty, incomes prime marks, earlier than becoming a member of the Soviet Air Force and present process pilot coaching. He excelled as an aviator, and whereas, as Walker recounted, the top of the Vostok coaching program exclaimed, “All six cosmonauts are terrific guys,” Gagarin led the sector from the second he arrived for coaching. It helped, after all, that he was Russian.
He additionally had solely the vaguest concept of the place he was when he got here again to Earth, at one level crossing over a nook of Antarctica earlier than lastly parachuting out over a collective farm just like the one in all his childhood. “Boys, let’s be acquainted,” he instructed the astonished farmers he encountered. “I am the first spaceman in the world, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin.”
Meanwhile, a pissed off John Kennedy, realizing that the United States must discover one other occasion in the space race in which to compete, despatched a memo to his vice chairman, Lyndon Johnson, asking, “Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip around the moon, or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man?”
All of that turned out to be true, all of the extra so when NASA beat Kennedy’s schedule by 164 days and, on July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong, accompanied by Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, piloted the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle to the floor of the Moon.
If just for his half in spurring on the space race 60 years in the past, Yuri Gagarin deserves some credit score for that transformative second, too.
Gregory McNamee writes about books, science, meals, geography and lots of different subjects from his dwelling in Arizona.