By 1957 the world's scientists had begun to talk about the possibility of launching a small satellite or probe into space. The Russians believed they were ready to do this and told the world of their plans. However, America was the most technologically advanced country in the world and if a satellite was going to soar into space, surely it would be launched from Uncle Sam's backyard.
On 4th October 1957 a news release from Russia swept around the world. Teleprinters across America's newsrooms hammered out the message.
The Russians had launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik. If that news wasn't bad enough, it was also flying directly over America. American skies had been violated.
Eisenhower tried to pacify an indignant America by claiming "The Russians have only put one small ball in the air". The Soviet premier Khrushchev saw things differently "The people of the world are pointing to the satellite and saying the US has been beaten".
30 days later the Russians launched a much larger satellite but the astonishing thing about Sputnik 2 was not its size but its cargo.
Inside the satellite was a dog, Laika. The Russians had put the first living creature into space. This time instead of the steady electronic beep of Sputnik, the world listened to a heartbeat.
The Russians had no intention of retreiving Laika and after a few days the oxygen in Sputnik 2 ran out and she slipped into hypoxic sleep and died painlessly.
The American public wanted to know why the United States were so far behind the Russians. They wanted to see a satellite with the Stars and Stripes on the side.
In January 1958 the American public got what it wanted when one of Von Braun's rockets launched Explorer 1 into orbit.
With both super-powers up and running with their space programs, the next step was to put a man into space.
After exhaustive program of selection, seven test pilots were chosen to be America's pioneers in space. The press and the public were introduced to America's first astronauts.
Gordo Cooper, Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton would become known as the Mercury 7.
The question now was 'who would be the first man in space?'.