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Bedtime Biography: Shoot for the Moon

The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11

By James Donovan
7-minute read
Audio available
Bedtime Biography: Shoot for the Moon by James Donovan

Narrated by Oliver Mains
Music by Federico Coderoni

Shoot for the Moon (2019) provides a riveting, wide-ranging account of the early space race. It guides you through the historic Apollo 11 mission which first landed humans on the moon, and sheds light on the legacy of the preceding missions that paved its way.

  • Anyone interested in the space race and the Cold War
  • Science geeks interested in NASA’s early endeavors
  • Future astronauts who need to do their homework

James Donovan is an American author specializing in popular history. His previous best-selling books include A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn – the Last Great Battle of the American West (2008) and The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo – and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation (2012). He lives in Dallas, Texas. 

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Bedtime Biography: Shoot for the Moon

The Space Race and the Extraordinary Voyage of Apollo 11

By James Donovan
  • Read in 7 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 5 key ideas
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Bedtime Biography: Shoot for the Moon by James Donovan
Synopsis

Narrated by Oliver Mains
Music by Federico Coderoni

Shoot for the Moon (2019) provides a riveting, wide-ranging account of the early space race. It guides you through the historic Apollo 11 mission which first landed humans on the moon, and sheds light on the legacy of the preceding missions that paved its way.

Key idea 1 of 5

Chapter 1

Bedtime Biographies are best when listened to.  Check out the audio version to get the full experience!

 

The moon has fascinated humans for millennia. For thousands of years, people have stared up at the glowing white sphere illuminating the night’s sky, and wondered what secrets it holds. Is there life up there? Is there water? Is it made of cheese?

And for so long, that’s all they were able to do: stare and wonder from a great distance.

All this changed on July 20, 1969. On this momentous day, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface, and became the first humans to walk on the moon. In this bedtime biography, we’ll share the story of how they got there. It’s a tale of ambition, politics, tragedy, and human endurance. So, why not sit back, relax, and listen to how humanity, finally, got to the moon.

 

On October 5, 1957, America woke up to some unsettling news. All across the nation, people sat down to breakfast, opened their newspapers, switched on their radios and televisions, and were shocked. The Soviet Union – America’s bitter rival in the Cold War – had launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite.

Americans gazed up to the heavens in horror as the shiny metal ball whizzed across the sky, miles above their heads.

Sputnik 1 wasn’t very sophisticated; it was a simple communication device shoved inside a tiny 184-pound steel ball. But it still terrified Americans. Weren’t they supposed to be the most technologically advanced nation in the world? That’s what they’d always been told. Was it a lie?

As it orbited around the Earth, Sputnik 1 also passed over the United States seven times a day. And sure, it was just a harmless communications device. But what about the future? Might the Russians not someday build a weaponized version? Was this a national security risk as well as a national humiliation?

There was only one thing for it; America had to strike back.

The space race had begun.

 

It didn’t take long for the US to get things ready. On December 6, just a few months after the launch of Sputnik 1, it scheduled the launch of its first satellite. A TV crew was invited to broadcast the event live – to capture this historic moment. Millions tuned in to see America fight back in the space race.

The countdown began: five, four, three, two, one... Liftoff!  Kind of. The rocket did lift off, but didn’t get far. At about four feet up, it exploded in a massive fireball. The little satellite fell from the burning rocket and rolled into some bushes. So much for the first US satellite in space.

The press had a field day. “Flopnik!” and “Kaputnik” screamed the headlines. It was, once again, a total humiliation.

The US had a lot to learn if it was ever going to catch up with the Soviets.

 

The US finally managed to launch a satellite at the end of January, 1958. But by then the Russians were ready to go one step further. In May, they sent Sputnik 3 into space. This was a much bigger, and much more sophisticated satellite. It carried lots of advanced research equipment designed to look into the nature of the earth’s upper atmosphere and space itself.

After Sputnik 3, both countries began exchanging satellite launches. But they were shadowboxing. Both knew what the next big milestone would be: getting a human into space and, of course, getting him to earth safely.

Both the US and the Soviet Union were desperate to get there first.

On December 17, 1958, the US announced its attempt to put a man in space. It was called Project Mercury. To run the project, they created a new organization: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. You probably know it by its initials: NASA.

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