I'm going to skip right over the news that today marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. In my lifetime, another event which took place on this date had as far reaching consequences. Fifty years ago today, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth.
Gagarin's mission began the "Space Race", the competition between the US and Soviet Union to achieve supremacy in space exploration. American pride was rattled when the USSR was the first to send a man in space. Believing that American technology lagged behind the Soviets, for the only time in my lifetime, national political leaders championed education, especially in engineering and the sciences, and backed it with virtually unlimited resources.
In a mostly face saving endeavor, the US hastily launched Alan Shepard in the suborbital Mercury 7 mission on May 5th. By the end of May 1961, President Kennedy in a joint session of Congress, laid out his goal of sending a man to the moon by the end of the decade. An American finally orbited earth in February 1962.
The results of the race were practical and wide ranging.
Photos of earth from space bred the environmental movement. The semiconductor, telecommunications, and computer industry were major recipients of space race funding.
Latex paint, no fog goggles, synthetic fibers all began as space projects.
And who could forget Tang?