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Here’s a chart I see frequently on Twitter.
Jeff Shesol in his new book John Glenn, John Kennedy and the new Battlegrounds of the Cold War, wrote:
What the Soviets had was a Potemkin program. They made fewer launches than the Americans because they lacked the infrastructure. They relied heavily on one rocket, the R7 Semyorka, rather than developing new technologies. They achieved a series of firsts, but at the expense of long-term planning.
Some of the Soviet firsts were done almost totally to beat the Americans such as the first space walk. They first spacewalk was in March 1965. The next one was in January 1969. The Americans had done spacewalks in Geminis 4, 9, 10, 11 and 12 during that time.
Some American firsts include:
Solar cells – Vanguard 1. This is one that my father tinkered with on our dining room table. I’m wearing the red coat next to it.
Navigation satellite – Transit
Weather satellite – Vanguard 2/Tiros
Communication satellite – Telstar (active, direct relay) preceded by Echo
First successful fly by of Mars Mariner 4
First space probe to orbit another planet – Mariner 9
First probe through the asteroid belt – Pioneer 10
These are just some of the American firsts. Clearly, America held a lead from 1959 onwards in application satellites.