On July 20th, 1969, Mission Commander Neil Alden Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. This act was the crux of what is, without a doubt, the greatest accomplishment in the history of mankind. Armstrong's boot print was the first on the Moon, and the Apollo program marks the only time mankind has ever stepped on another celestial body.
The space race has resulted in unprecedented scientific and technological breakthroughs. Soil and rock samples helped scientists come to a general consensus on the formation of the Moon (generally accepted to be the giant impact hypothesis), which sheds clues to both the past and future of the Earth.
NASA's work has led to countless breakthroughs that impact everyone on a much more practical and personal scale as well. People first point to Tang, Teflon, and Velcro (all of which actually predate the space race), but look right past countless other technologies.
Global Positioning Satellites, enriched baby formula, many medical technologies (CAT scans, MRIs, kidney dialysis, robotic surgery, and more), weather satellites (and the improved forecasting, particularly of Hurricanes), and freeze-dried foods all directly stem from NASA.
Much more importantly, NASA's work with communication satellites laid the groundwork for much of modern American life. Next time you take out your cell phone or watch a live broadcast from across the world, think where those technologies originated.
It's unquestionable the amount of impact the space race had upon American culture, both during and after the Cold War, but what's often overlooked is the impact it has had upon the sporting world.
NASA's breakthroughs have led to better technologies in a number of sports applications.
Recently Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuit has received a lot of publicity and success in the pool. 94% of winning racers during the 2008 Beijing Olympic games were wearing the suit, and the LZR was a definite factor in the 25 world records that were broken during the games (23 of the records came from swimmers wearing a LZR).
The suit, which boasts that it can improve swimmers' times by up to 2.2%, was partially developed by NASA.
A number of NASA-developed fabrics, some similar to those used in LZR, have been used in numerous Athletic purposed. One such use is the reflective blankets that are used by marathon runners to help stabilize body temperatures at the end of races.
Other space-age materials have been used in light-weight golf clubs.
Some sabre-metric agencies are now experimenting with advanced technologies, namely GPS to track players' positions in the field, to create more encompassing and accurate fielding statistics in baseball.
Nothing has changed sports more than the improvements in wireless communications pioneered by NASA early in their history. Without that, watching sporting events from every location of globe, live, simply wouldn't be possible.
A majority of the world is too young to know anything before the space race, so live television is often taken for granted. Watching the Olympics, World Cup, or British Open in real time simply wouldn't be possible without NASA.
The juxtaposition of science, sports, and the arts in modern society is truly one of our great shames. From an early age, sports and science are separated. But, as NASA has clearly shown, the two can, and are, linked.