America’s “dare devils” of the skies pack the history of aviation. The Wright brothers, for example, invented the airplane and flew the first powered flight in 1903, while other risk takers — Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart — piloted solo and non-stop across the Atlantic in 1927 and 1932, respectively.
And then there was Douglas Corrigan: an aircraft mechanic who salvaged an airplane from a trash heap, restored it, and soared from California to New York. He anticipated a transatlantic journey, but the authorities quashed it.
Even so, on July 17, 1938, Corrigan took off–allegedly for California, but reversed course, turned east, crossed the Atlantic, and ended up in Ireland 28 hours later.
Afterwards, he was –famously—known as “Wrong Way” Corrigan.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Corrigan’s That’s My Story.
On July 20, 1969, the astronaut Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” when he set foot on the moon became the first human to reach an extraterrestrial destination, and—also–satisfy President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 promise to the nation.
The achievement was challenging but according to History.com “NASA and its thousands of workers forged ahead, and in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts around the far side of the moon and orbited it 10 times before returning, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft in 31 orbits around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.” And so, on July 16, “Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard.”
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Apollo Moon Landings by Jay Barbree, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, and Neil Armstrong.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, followed in January by America’s Explorer I. In July, Congress established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a civilian agency responsible for coordinating the country’s interstellar activities. The competitive chase to conquer the cosmos had begun.
According to History.com, “by landing on the moon, the United States effectively ‘won’ the space race that had begun with Sputnik’s launch in 1957. For their part, the Soviets made four failed attempts to launch a lunar landing craft between 1969 and 1972, including a spectacular launch-pad explosion in July 1969. From beginning to end, the American Soviet and U.S. space programs were heavily covered in the national media. This frenzy of interest was further encouraged by the new medium of television. Astronauts came to be seen as the ultimate American heroes, and earth-bound men and women seemed to enjoy living vicariously through them. Soviets, in turn, were pictured as the ultimate villains, with their massive, relentless efforts to surpass America and prove the power of the communist system.”
For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize suggests Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino.
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.