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The Space Race: Project Mercury

Focusing on Details: Discussion Topic

All documents and text associated with this activity are printed below, followed by a worksheet for student responses.

Introduction

In the midst of the Cold War, the Space Race between the United Sates and the Soviet Union began on October 4, 1957, with the Russian launch of Sputnik I. Americans viewed Sputnik I as a great victory for the Russians and were fearful that the United States' role in the world, and ability to defend itself against nuclear weapons, was compromised.

In order to regain America's role as technological leader of the world, intense effort was focused on a manned space program with the founding of NASA in 1958. Tensions between the United States and Russia continued throughout the 1960s as both countries vied for dominance in space exploration.

With this in mind, read the following document from 1959 and answer the questions. Click on "View Entire Document" to see the second page.


Name:
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Worksheet

The Space Race: Project Mercury

Focusing on Details: Discussion Topic

Examine the documents included in this activity and write your response in the space provided.


What was the intent of the Mercury 7 astronauts who wrote this document? Do you believe they really intended to extend the olive branch to the Russians for the sake of science? Do you think this was written for public relations possibilities? Do you think all of the astronauts agreed with the content of this memorandum? Why do you think Walter "Wally" Schirra and Donald "Deke" Slayton's names are crossed out? How does this relate to the greater context of the Cold War?

Your Response




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Activity Element

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Conclusion

The Space Race: Project Mercury

Focusing on Details: Discussion Topic

The Space Race was one of the key components of the Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R.

Based on your knowledge of the Cold War, do you agree or disagree with the Mercury 7 astronauts' proposal to the Mercury director? Create an essay or imaginary letter explaining why you would sign or decline signing the document.

Your Response




Document

Memorandum on the Exchange of Visits with Russian Astronauts

10/21/1959

Selected from 500 applicants, the Mercury Seven were to be the first Americans in space. Introduced to the world on April 10, 1959, the men considered themselves to be military test pilots but became instant national heroes. However, the men were caught in the middle of the larger Cold War rivalry and space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. NASA, concerned about the growing competition between the two countries, sent this memo regarding the exchange of visits with Russian astronauts, proposing to publicly work with Russia. It said: “Propaganda-wise, we apparently stand to gain a great deal and could lose little or nothing.” Two of the Mercury Seven, Walter M. Schirra and Donald K. Slayton, in an apparent protest to this, crossed their names out and did not sign.
This primary source comes from the Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
National Archives Identifier: 4662499
Full Citation: Memorandum on the Exchange of Visits with Russian Astronauts; 10/21/1959; Reference Files on Project Mercury, 1958 - 1963; Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, ; National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/memo-visits-russian-astronauts, December 18, 2018]


Memorandum on the Exchange of Visits with Russian Astronauts

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Memorandum on the Exchange of Visits with Russian Astronauts

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