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Course Catalog - Osher Lifelong Learning Institute > Social Sciences > Political Science

Chariots of Apollo: The Cold War Race to the Moon and Beyond   

More than a half century ago, mankind landed on Earth’s moon in response to a challenge issued by a young, dynamic and inspirational American President. Almost before the seemingly impossible mission could be fully planned, that President was assassinated. In his memory, the effort was redoubled and ultimately accomplished. Landing a man on the moon, arguably the greatest technological achievement in history and by far the most expensive, had been achieved. The U.S. won the race to the moon and its prestige was never higher. A Cold War adversary had been bested as American flags marked the moon landing sites. Most of the world celebrated the event as a human triumph. Then, just three years after winning the Cold War space race, we quit! America abandoned the moon, with no plans to return. Why? Today a new Space Race is underway. Rather than being just a contest of will and resources between two superpowers, it is a competition engaging multiple nation-state adversaries and even private space companies. What will be America’s reaction to the planting of a People’s Republic of China or even a SpaceX flag on the moon? Some historians have called the first space race a surrogate for an actual war; will the second space race prevent or enable war?

Your instructor creates multimedia presentations and facilitates discussion to examine the technical, political and social challenges of the space race among superpowers. Learn about the American, Russian and German rocket experts who dreamed of space flight and sometimes compromised their ethics to pursue it. Their personal stories and ironies within them almost overshadow the technical accomplishments. Examine both the Soviet and American space successes as well as failures in detail. Ride along with Yuri Gagarin’s and the Soviet Union’s apparently spectacular first manned space flight. Consider just how close the Soviets were to launching their own circumlunar mission to upstage our Apollo 8. Vicariously experience Apollo 11’s harrowing descent and landing upon the Sea of Tranquility. Explore along with subsequent Apollo astronauts and experience their often-unpublicized near-misses. By the end of the course, you better understand the amazing technical accomplishments of both adversaries’ space programs as well as the organizational and societal successes and failures of each.

Whether you remember the shock of Sputnik, the tragedy of Apollo One or the exhilaration of Apollo 11’s touchdown, this course is for you! You’re welcome whether you’re less or more technologically inclined or science minded. Some rocket science is involved but only up to a fun level! Your instructor provides optional documents and resources via a class website as well as access to an excellent, free 12-part Washington Post audio podcast by Lillian Cunningham entitled Moon Rise.


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