The idolatry of the first astronauts is part of what maintained
a feeling of competition between the US and the USSR during the space race,
despite Kennedy and Khrushchev's attempts at establishing joint space efforts.
In this photograph, nearly four thousand people filled Grand Central
Station to watch John Glenn become the first American astronaut to
orbit the earth. CBS had installed a twelve-by-sixteen-foot television
screen for the event. This excitement and pride that Americans had for
John Glenn's flight, as well as for the flights of the other first
astronauts, helped sustain the competition felt during the space race,
despite Kennedy and Khrushchev's work to establish joint space programs
between the two nations.
In this photograph, Yuri Gagarin of the USSR, the first man to orbit
the Earth, walks a red carpet at Moscow airport to ceremonies honoring
his flight. This honor demonstrates the great admiration that the
people of the USSR felt toward him.
This cover of a 1959 LIFE magazine features the seven astronauts of the
Mercury program, the United States' first manned spaceflight program.
The extensive media coverage of the astronauts, who had now become
celebrities, was part of the source of competition between the
US and the USSR regarding the space race.