It's called the United States' first "spacewalk," but on June 3, 1965, U.S. astronaut Edward White actually floated through the open hatch of Gemini 4 into space over the Pacific Ocean. There he moved back and forth along a 25-foot-long tether attached to the spacecraft, quickly working out the best ways to maneuver. This was three months after Russia had accomplished a similar feat. But three weeks after White's spacewalk, Gallup found more Americans -- for the first time -- saying the U.S. rather than Russia was leading in space research.
|Gallup, June 24-29, 1965|
White's spacewalk was a vital milestone in NASA's progress toward putting astronauts on the moon and building the International Space Station. But, given the Cold War, it also had political implications. According to NASA, "Since the Soviet Union launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, [on] Oct. 4, 1957, the United States had been attempting to catch up in the space race. The Russians passed the Americans again on March 18, 1965, when cosmonaut Alexei Leonov performed the first spacewalk during the one-day Voskhod 2 mission. However, with Gemini 4, NASA was quickly catching up."
Indeed, in 1961 -- the first time Gallup asked about who was ahead in the U.S.-Russia space race -- Americans were evenly divided on the question, with 38% naming each country and 24% unsure. Thus, the 1965 survey marked a major shift in public confidence in U.S. space exploration, even before Neil Armstrong took humanity's first step on the moon four years later. White and two other astronauts were killed in a flash fire that erupted during a launch-pad test of the Apollo I spacecraft in January 1967.
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