The launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 gave the US the willies. Would the ominous bleeping ball orbiting above its citizens lead to atomic bombs from space? Faced with rising public hysteria, President Eisenhower convened Nasa, assembling a team of galacticos equal to the apocalyptic technical challenge. Backroom boffins included Wernher von Braun, brain behind the Nazis' V-2 rocket, but less controversial talent covered the scientific spectrum. Four months after Sputnik, the US had a satellite in space. But the battle wasn't just scientific: the US needed heroes. Downhome presbyterian John Glenn set the tone, with his pronouncement that his flight would 'take me closer to God'. His fellow astronauts Alan Shepard and Scott Carpenter were soon lionised as selfless patriots too. The nation wept tears of joy with every mission. Having set its goals, Nasa brought in the best people for each job. The first ball in space may have been Soviet, but Americans were soon playing golf on the moon.
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