* At the beginning of the 20th century, the idea that humans might travel to the Moon was generally regarded as a wild fantasy. However, after World War I a number of pioneering researchers began to develop new rocket technologies that opened the possibility of sending people into space.
In World War II, advanced rocket technologies were applied to the development of long-range weapons, most significantly the German "V-2" missile. The V-2 was a true "wonder weapon", something that seemed like sheer science fiction at the time -- and though it was not very effective in military terms, it opened doors to great possibilities in both war and peace.
With the invention of the atomic bomb in 1945, visionaries could see that the long-range missile had the potential to upset the strategic balance of power. With the onset of the Cold War in the 1950s and the development of improved missile technologies, that potential became only too vivid in both East and West, and the superpowers began a race to develop nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. Military leadership also realized that the new rockets could be used to place reconnaissance satellites into orbit that could spy on adversaries, or orbit satellites to support military communications. The rocket pioneers had always been interested in sending humans into space, and proved shrewd in using military agendas to promote their own agenda.
In late 1957, the Soviet Union placed the first artificial Earth satellite, "Sputnik 1", into orbit, almost inadvertently setting off a frantic superpower competition in space exploration, resulting in the American "Apollo" program that put men on the Moon in 1969. This document provides a history of space exploration from its origins through the end of the Moon race in the early 1970s. It is also available in a downloadable archive, formatted in HTML, for reading on a tablet or other viewer.