On the 28th of January 2013 Iran launched a monkey into space in a brilliant bid to become a player in a race no-one’s participating in anymore. Space exploration constantly furthers scientific knowledge. Shooting a monkey into space has done nothing to add to a collective knowledge. Except the knowledge that the leaders of countries consider space a target to show off power. To undermine the Iranian effort: In 1947 fruit flies made the exact same journey as the Iranian monkey did in 2013. The fruit flies were the first animals in space and possibly the last animals to be sent into space mainly for scientific reasons instead of space power-grabbing.
There is a question about the space race that I’ve never received a satisfactory answer to: who set the parameters? Because as far as the name is concerned: A race is a pursuit of something and the first person to reach the target wins. And the target of the space race, so the name suggests, was space. If this is correct, then Russia must be declared the winner of the space race.
If you were to keep a score-card of the space race it would look as follows:
Now, you may say the American achievements are more impressive than the Russian ones. But only if you attach extra importance to two things:
1. The idea of chimps in space.
And why would you? Because although humans are closer relatives of chimps than dogs, in the context of space flight this isn’t hugely relevant. Dogs survived space missions, but not because they were less intelligent than chimps or humans. It might be more interesting to see what the psychological effect of space flight is for a chimpanzee than a dog, as it is tentatively more similar to a human experience. Except for the huge difference that chimps (and dogs for that matter) are completely unaware of what is about to happen when they are strapped in for their spacecraft. Astro-/Cosmonauts however, know full well what they are getting into. Or at least, to the extent that they have given consent to be sent into space.
Basically; if a dog can survive space, it is likely a human can survive space. You can send a chimp to space to double check that it’s not some canine absurdity that they are especially adapted to space flight, but that seems an unlikely hypothesis.
2.The man on the moon thing. That is a big one. But… that wasn’t the initial race. It was abundantly clear that Russia was winning the space race and so President Kennedy called a new goal for the space race: to send a man to the moon. And luckily for the US, the Russians had a change of president, and the new president didn’t want to spend money on space exploration. Which gave the Americans a convenient advantage and, lo and behold, the Americans won the race. I believe that the Russians, had they not gone through a political shift, would’ve been the first to send someone to the moon. In that light it is worth noting that after the moon landing, the Russians were the first to launch a space station and have the first space laboratory.
I think it is time we praise the Russians more publicly for their space efforts instead of thinking of them as the ‘losers’ of the space race. Russia won the race until the US moved the goalposts of the race. It is the equivalent of a person losing a board game and shouting ‘BEST OF 3!’ In games that might be considered being a sore loser. In the race to conquer space, that’s considered a world-wide victory.