From Fort Sumter to the Moon

Today, April 12th is most likely to be notable as the day most procrastinators get around to starting their taxes. But this day also has a significant place in history. For in the early hours of two different April 12th mornings, 150 and 50 years ago today, the opening volleys of two different wars were launched.

On April 12, 1861, the opening shots of the American Civil War were fired by Confederate soldiers on Ft. Sumter in South Carolina. Exactly 100 years later, the first human shot in the Cosmic Cold War conflict known as the space race was fired by the Soviet Union as it launched Cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin into space.

The weaponry and goals were different, of course. Cannons versus rocket engines -- which represents a staggering advancement in technology in just 100 years, in and of itself. But in many ways, the Civil War was an attempt by the Confederacy to hold onto a lifestyle and world of the past. The space race was an effort to control the world of the future.

The Civil War was more bloody, of course. But make no mistake about it -- the huge amounts of money and effort that both the Soviet Union and the United States poured into their space programs would not have been invested there if control of space weren't seen as a critical military goal for both countries.

On the other hand, it's possible to see the firing of a rocket carrying the first human into space as an example of some of the better things we can do with technology, rather than simply using it to fire bullets and cannonballs at each other. The best and the worst that humans can rise or sink to ... all connected to an object fired in the early morning hours, and commemorated on the same calendar day, 100 years apart.

Presented by

Lane Wallace is a pilot and adventure writer. She is the author of Surviving Uncertainty: Taking a Hero's Journey.

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