The following is an excerpt from For All Humankind: The Untold Stories of How the Moon Landing Inspired the World by Tanya Harrison and Danny Bednar.
The small wooden bookshelf in Matias’ room housed a collection of science fiction classics, including Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. Contained within their pages were the blueprints for a child’s dreams of space travel. For most of human history, this was the only way space travel happened, in the imaginations of writers and on the page.
But dreams of humans travelling into space didn’t stay on the pages of fiction. For Matias in particular, they became a reality within just eleven years of his time on Earth.
In the 1960s, Matias watched the events of the Space Race closely. He followed along with the accomplishments of NASA’s Mercury and Gemini programs. Reading about imaginary astronauts was replaced with the real deal. He felt a connection, as if these astronauts were going to space for him — and for everyone else on Earth. It felt as if they went up so that the rest of us down below could join them vicariously. Through the astronaut’s descriptions of what it felt like to be in space, and the footage on the nightly news, everyone got to go along on the journey.
Matias was much more aware of the happenings in space than most children his age, and indeed perhaps more than many adults in the small village of Santa Cecilia Tepetlapa, a town of about 1000 people on the southern outskirts of Mexico City. From here, much of what he managed to glean about the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union came through the radio. More tangibly, updates on the latest missions and which country had beaten which in each milestone were regularly splashed across the front pages of the local newspapers.
Mexicans like Matias felt strong ties to U.S. space efforts. Their neighbors were no different from them except that the Americans lived north of the Río Bravo (known as the Rio Grande in the U.S.) and Mexicans lived to the south. To Mattias, they lived similar lives, ones that were relatable to each other. The Soviet Union on the other hand seemed vastly different. Living under an authoritarian regime, Russia was portrayed in the western media…