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The Russian space Agency is the latest incarnation of what was the Soviet Space Agency. Other than NASA it is one of the most prolific and successful national space agencies in the world. The Russian space agency got its start when Russian became the Soviet Union in full after WWII. The Soviet Union entered a period of technological advancement spurred by its Cold War Rivalry with the United States. Both nations sunk significant capital and scientific talent into rocketry and eventually space exploration.
While most people know of the launching of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, many don’t know that until the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969, the Russian Space Agency was winning with a stunning series of “firsts” in space. This was because the Soviet government realized the tremendous political capital produced by the technological breakthroughs and successes of the space agency. Sputnik sent the United States population into a panic. The sending Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, into orbit got the grudging respect of nations worldwide.
The Apollo Moon Landing ended the space race but it was largely because the Soviet government was not ready to expend further capital on the moon landing especially after America already completed the goal ahead of them. Instead the Soviet Space Program initiated a series of joint missions with NASA. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this would be continued by the Russian Space Agency. Since then the Russian space agency has helped to build the International Space Station and is slated to help get American Astronauts to space with the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. It also became the first space agency to send private paying customers to space helping to spark private enterprise in space.
If you’d like more info on the Russian Space Agency, check out the Official Website of the Russian Federal Space Agency, and here’s a link to the NASA Spaceflight page about the Russian Space Agency.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast about the space shuttle. Listen here, Episode 127: The US Space Shuttle.