by Gideon Marcus
For a few bright weeks, it looked as if the United States might be gaining in the Space Race. Now, the Reds have pulled forward again with a most astonishing announcement: their second cosmonaut, a Major Gherman Titov, orbited the Earth in his “Vostok 2” for an entire day before coming safely back to Earth this morning.
As usual, details of the launch were not divulged until Comrade Titov was already in space. He circled the globe a record 17 times (compare to his predecessor, Gagarin’s, single orbit). The flight lasted long enough that Americans had the unique, if not entirely pleasant, opportunity to both go to bed and awaken with the knowledge that a Russian was whizzing just a matter of miles over their house.
This flight comes almost on the heels of that of our second spaceman, Captain Gus Grissom, who flew into space for a comparatively puny 15 minutes on July 21. For a few short weeks, the free world held the lead, if not in time in space, then at least number of astronauts. The Soviets have now made that success look feeble. In fact, I am now hearing rumors that astronaut John Glenn’s suborbital Mercury flight, scheduled for next month, will likely be canceled. There is no propaganda value left in half-measures, and besides, Shepard’s and Grissom’s flights taught us all there was to be learned from the Redstone launched missions.
Now, there is a whole lot of worry being dispensed by the newspapers over Titov’s flight. Many speculate that there is no way we can catch up to the Communists in our race for the Moon. After all, our first orbital flight is still untold months away; before an American ever orbits the Earth, the Russians may have a space station or even a foothold on our nearest celestial neighbor.
I think these fears are unfounded. Vostok 2 was almost assuredly the same type of ship as Gagarin’s Vostok 1. It was designed, like our Mercury, to endure several days in orbit. The increase in orbits from 1 to 17 does not reflect a seventeen-fold increase in Soviet space capability – merely greater use of Vostok’s full potential.
Similarly, the 15 minute flights of Freedom 7 and Liberty Bell 7 reflect but a tiny proportion of the Mercury spacecraft’s endurance. When the Atlas booster is on-line in a few months, you will see the American program accomplishing the same feats as that of the Soviets. I’m willing to bet our lunar ship, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration began work on earlier this year, will be done before its Russian counterpart, too.
We have to remember that the timing of the Soviet missions is designed for maximum psychological effect. Without taking anything away from the 26-year old Titov’s noteworthy trip, I note that it occurred just as tensions over Berlin reached their highest since the Commnunist blockade of 1948. Khruschev is flexing his muscles, both on the land and in space, hoping that Kennedy will blink if the Soviets carry out their threat to wall off their side of Berlin from ours.
Now is not the time to get discouraged. Not in the Space Race, not in the Cold War. As I’ve said before, the Race to the Moon is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.