Exhibit Sections

North Carolina
and the

Space Race

Charles Duke Apollo 16

Exhibit Text

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched the world’s first satellite, a beach-ball–sized metal sphere called Sputnik.

During its three-week orbit, the satellite both captivated and terrified the American public. In response, the United States organized a new government agency—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA—and tasked it with researching flight inside and outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The space race had officially begun.

When NASA put out the call for talented engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and more, North Carolinians—many of whom had received their training at hallowed state institutions like UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and UNC Greensboro—came forward in droves. They moved, sometimes far from their families and hometowns, to NASA facilities in Texas, Florida, and Virginia with one unifying goal in mind: to put a man on the Moon.

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America’s first man-in-space program ran from 1958 to 1963 and was known as Project Mercury. Through Mercury, NASA sought to achieve three objectives: to successfully orbit a manned spacecraft, to study man's ability to function in space, and to return both man and spacecraft safely back to earth.…
NASA’s second phase of space exploration was called Project Gemini. Gemini’s ten manned missions flew in 1965 and 1966, successfully demonstrating man’s ability to live and work in space for extended periods of time. Primary aspects of the Gemini program included the implementation of spacecraft…
Project Apollo’s ultimate goal—to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth—was achieved just eight years after President John F. Kennedy’s challenge, a testament to American ingenuity and perseverance. Between 1969 and 1972, twelve men walked on the Moon. This feat, however, could not…
All around the country, the successes of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs played out in real time on living room television screens. For the first time in history, a generation came to maturity in a world in which space travel was considered an ordinary part of human existence. Young boys…