Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What if the Soviet Union had beaten the US to the Moon?

The Americans won the race to the Moon when Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface in 1969.

That single act trumped the Soviet achievement of sending the first man into space eight years earlier. But what might have happened if the Soviet Union had got to the Moon first?

The first manned lunar landing was a triumph for Nasa, and when the Americans won the Space Race, they also sounded its death knell.

The Apollo lunar programme continued until 1972 and 12 astronauts touched down on the Moon's surface. But US TV networks quickly bored of the Moon landings. When politicians lost interest, the Apollo programme was scrapped.

Of course, we have not been back since. Instead, human exploration of space has been confined to low-Earth orbit.

Piers Bizony, who has co-written a biography of Gagarin called Starman, says: "The Russians were in the business of conquering space... The Americans felt they were in a race and the nature of a race is that once you think you've won it you tend to stop running."

Had the Soviets got to the Moon first it is unlikely that they would have abandoned it as swiftly as the Americans.

Not being a democracy may have enabled the USSR to spend money and marshal the talents of their population in a way that America could not.

Space historian Dr Christopher Riley believes that not only would the Soviet Union have continued with Moon missions, but they might also have built lunar bases.

And he believes that the Americans would have been compelled to do the same and even try to continue to outdo their communist rivals. (read more)