Space Race Teaching Activities

This Friday, May 1st is National Space Day.  How can you celebrate this day that highlights the achievements and benefits of space exploration with your students?

Apollo 11 Commemorative First Day Issue Stamp
Apollo 11 Commemorative First Day Issue Stamp from Postcard, 1969. From the White House Staff Member and Office Files (Nixon Administration) Collection. National Archives Identifier 1634230.

Visit DocsTeach, with its numerous primary sources related to the history of NASA and American space exploration, all from the holdings of the National Archives.

These primary sources come in a variety of forms, including written documents, photographs, and videos. Several DocsTeach activities teach students about the pioneering Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. These early manned space programs set the foundation for the modern space program.

The Mercury Program

Astronaut Scott Carpenter Looking inside his Aurora 7 Spacecraft
Astronaut Scott Carpenter looking inside his Mercury spacecraft capsule “Aurora 7” prior to launch on May 24, 1962. From the Records of the U.S. Senate. National Archives Identifier 7430760.

The political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II led to the Cold War and launched a Space Race between the two countries. This tension was the impetus behind the Mercury program. The United States wanted to prove it not only had the technology, but was capable of sending man into space.

The Space Race: Project Mercury activity allows older students to investigate the Space Race by analyzing a memorandum written by Mercury 7 astronauts to the Mercury program director.

The Gemini Program

Astronaut Edward H. White II's Space Walk on Gemini IV
Astronaut Ed White was the first American to walk in space during the Gemini IV mission on June 3, 1965. From the Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. National Archives Identifier 4728365.

In a speech at Rice University in Houston, Texas, in September of 1962, President John F. Kennedy promised that the United States would send a man to the moon by the end of the decade.  With this promise, the Gemini program’s goal was to learn new techniques that would later help the United States in its exploration of the moon.

The Process of Early Space Flight: The Gemini Program gives younger students the opportunity to investigate the process of early space flight by sequencing a series of photographs from the Gemini missions.

The Apollo Program

Astronaut Edwin E. (Buzz) Aldrin, Jr. Posing on the Moon Next to the U.S. Flag
Astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. posing on the moon next to the American flag on July 20, 1969. From the Records of the U.S. Information Agency. National Archives Identifier 593743.

Early American space exploration culminated with the Apollo program reaching the moon. In Landing a Man on the Moon: President Nixon and the Apollo Program, older students will be able to analyze documents to understand the impact and significance of the Apollo program. Students are urged to question if the Apollo program ended the Space Race.

By 1975, Americans and Russians partnered in the Apollo-Soyuz program to further explore space. In Apollo-Soyuz: Space Age Détente, older students can continue learning about the complex relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union and the role that space exploration played in the past.


3 thoughts on “Space Race Teaching Activities

  1. This is an inspiring article, a true blast from the past, showing how we have progressed in space research and development. Hope the young and upcoming generation reads your article and contributes in their own special way to the betterment of space research and innovation.

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