Soon after, when World War II was over, the United States and the Soviet Union got locked in a global conflict, which was a pitting democracy against communism. Since then, space became a critical theatre in this Cold War, as each side competed for its best from the other side’s achievements, and that is what now we know as the Space Race.
The space race was a competition that happened during the 20th century between the two cold war rivals, as mentioned above, the United States and the Soviet Union, to achieve superior spaceflight capability. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced it in 1958 as the federal agency responsible for developing civilian aerospace research.
It also led to growing aerospace capabilities, including unmanned space probes, artificial satellites, and human spaceflight. Early soviet successes in the space race significantly impacted US society and culture, which also altered the defence doctrines and led to new educational initiatives.
How Did The Space Race Start?
The Space race was a struggle between two nation-states during the 20th century. And the competition between Soviet Union (USSR) and United States (US) began on 2nd August in 1955 when the Soviet Union responded to the United States’ announcement about their similar initiative to launch artificial or human-made satellites.
It takes its origin from the nuclear arms race between these two nations following the Second World War timeline. Both sides were aided by german missile technology and scientists from their different missile programs.
Who Won The Space race?
The United States effectively won the space race, which begun after the launch of Sputnik in 1957, by landing on the moon. For their part, the Soviet Union has made four failed attempts to launch a lunar landing craft during 1969 and 1972, including spectacular launch pad explosions in 1969 July. From the very beginning, the American public’s attention was captivated by the space race and upcoming developments by the Soviet and US space programs.
Though the USSR was able to claim the first victory in the space race by sending a dog into space in November 1957 for the first time, the Soviet Union was continuously gaining achievements to prove they are better than the United States when it comes to space capabilities. It led the United States to continue chasing the goals, ultimately resulting in the moon or lunar landing in the final contest. And the final battle was won by the United States by making the first lunar landing first before the USSR.
Space Race Timeline
This Timeline shows the years of competition between the two nations USSR and US, which we now know as the space race:
- 2nd August 1955: The Soviet Union responded to the United States’ announcement that they intend to launch the first satellite into space with their satellite.
- 4th October 1957: USSR successfully launched Sputnik 1, the first earth-orbiting satellite in history.
- 3rd November 1957: USSR successfully launched Sputnik 2, carrying a dog named Laika. With this Soviet Union became the first nation to send a living organism into space successfully.
- 31st January 1958: The United States entered the space race by launching Explorer 1, the first US satellite to reach orbit. The satellite carried experimental equipment, which led to discovering the Van Allen radiation belt in space.
- 1st October 1958: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created in the United States by replacing the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics.
- 18th December 1958: The United States launched SCORE, the world’s first communication satellite sent into space. The satellite captured world attention with a pre-recorded message from the President that was broadcasted in space.
- 2nd January 1959: USSR launched Luna 1, which was also known as the first cosmic rocket, but it accidentally escaped from the moon’s orbit due to its too much speed.
- 2nd August 1959: The United States launched Explorer 6, the world’s first weather satellite that has obtained the first pictures of earth from space.
- 12th April 1961: The USSR launched the first human in orbit, Yuri Gargarin, on Vostok 1
- 20th February 1962: John Glen became the first American in orbit on Mercury-Atlas 6 spacecraft.
- In August 1964, the Soviet Union initiated two Moon programs, a flyby and a landing program.
- 12th October 1964: The USSR launched the first multi-person spacecraft, Voskhod 1, with three astronauts, Vladimir Komarov, Konstantin Feoktistove Boris Yegorov.
- 18th March 1965: Aleksey Leonov performed the first spacewalk on Voskhod 2.
- 23rd March 1965: United States launched the first multi-person US spacecraft named Gemini 3 with John Young and Virgil Grissom.
- 3rd June 1965: Ed White was the first astronaut who made it to the first spacewalk on Gemini 4.
- 15th December 1965: The United States has its first orbital rendezvous named James Lovell and Frank Borman on Gemini 7 and Thomas Stafford and Walter Schiiraa on Gemini 6.
- 1967: This year was the most deadly year for both the nations in the space race. Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White got killed in a fire during the spacecraft’s Launchpad test. Due to the accident, they delayed the Apollo program for more than a year and a half.
- 14th September 1968: Zond 5 became the first spacecraft that successfully flew around the moon and then returned to earth.
- 11th October 1968: The United States launched the first flight of the Apollo program with astronauts Donn Eisele, Walter Cunningham, and Walter Schirra on Apollo 7.
- 24th December 1968: The launch of the first crewed flight around the moon took place with James Lovell, Frank Borman, and William Anders on Apollo 8.
- 3rd July 1969: This year is known as a tragedic year due to the explosion of the N1 moon rocket.
- 20th July 1969: The first humans landed on the moon named Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in Apollo 11 spacecraft. It resulted in the ultimate winner of the United States in the space race.
Why Was It Important?
During the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a competition to see who has the best technological advancements when it comes to space. It included many space events like space crafts on the moon’s orbit, the first humans to walk on the moon, and many more. The Space Race was considered extremely important because it showed the world that which country had the best science, advanced technological system, and comfortable economic system to carry on the processes.
How It Benefitted US Society?
Space Race benefited the United States society in different aspects like education, research, and technological advancements and created opportunities.
- Motivation in Education: When it comes to space or NASA-like organization, you need a lot of inspiration to complete studies in challenging subjects. Thus, it led to the brewing of US society’s motivation for education and studies to enroll in space programs.
- Technological advancements: While it fuelled the cold rivalry between the two nations, it also yielded considerable benefits for human society, especially in the United States. There were many discoveries in telecommunications, computer science, MICR-technology, and solar power with the Space Race.
- Jobs & Opportunities: As the space race was going on to keep it going, NASA created one of the best space organizations. It did a lot of jobs for American individuals in the field of space. Almost 20,000 people apply for NASA astronaut applications every year, out of which the organization selects the best suitable applicant.
- Foreign Policy: When Americans landed on the moon and took the first position, it described that they can do anything and became a centralized power nation. They used it as a foreign policy tool to convince other countries about America’s worth and its ability to protect and support the other countries, leading to the end of cold wars among many countries, especially America.
Space Race was one of the most important forms of non-violent competition between the United States and the USSR, which provided both countries with a platform to showcase space flight capability’s technological superiority. It also made the countries realize the importance of space research and its significance for the militaries. The Space Race was one of the most important historical events in space research, and both nations’ people still remember it.