Did the United States Really Win the Space Race?

Photo Courtesy: [Dimetar Dilkoff/AFP Via Getty Images; Westend61/Getty Images]

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural edition of our American Myths series in which we dispel stories from American history that are sometimes factually misrepresented and misconstrued. We’re here to get the facts right for you.

When people look back at 2021, one of the things they might remember most could be the peculiar strides in aerospace travel made by private companies and the wealthy individuals that head them up — how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk competed against each other by launching themselves into outer space.

What jarred so many people about these interstellar pursuits, in part, was that the coronavirus pandemic was still going on. Amidst widespread illness, geopolitical conflicts, labor struggles and climate disasters, the U.S. started seeing a new “space race” unfolding before its eyes. Many were reminded of the early development of NASA and the tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Russia to see who could be the first to create various aerospace technologies.

While we know it began the 1950s, there was no official end to the Space Race. You may have been taught in school that it came to a close in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew walked on the moon. But that may be just one major accomplishment in a long series of ongoing milestones. Today, we’re looking at the origins of galactic travel, celebrating the allyships that can form when working together — and reviewing the multitude of breakthroughs that the Space Race's potential winners achieved.