Space Race – A Cold War Rivals Between The United States and The Soviet Union

In 20th Century, the Space Race was started as a competition between two Cold War rivals, the United States and the Soviet Union, regarding achievements in the field of space exploration. It was seen as a part of the massive arms race. It’s main aim was to create developments in space research which could easily transfer to military studies. It had its origins in the missile-based nuclear weapons race between the two nations that occurred following World War II.

Space Race

Space Race

After World War II, a new clash began. Known as the Cold War, this battle pitted between the world’s two great powers, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. In 1950s beginning, space would become a dramatic area for this competition, as each side sought to prove their technology, its military firepower supported for their improvement in the field of Space Race. Both countries started to work on developing exploration satellites well before the height of the Space Race. The technological superiority required for such ascendancy could see as necessary for national security.

Man Enters Space

Man Enters Space

On August 2, 1955, the competition began with the US announcement to launch artificial satellites for the International Geophysical Year four days earlier, by declaring they would also launch a satellite “shortly”. So, to beat the US, the Soviet Union decided to start the Sputnik1 on 4th October 1957. A Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile launched Sputnik, the world’s first man-made object to be placed into the Earth’s orbit. Then they declared to send the first human into the orbit to beat the US. So Yuri Gagarin was put into space by the Soviet military. The race peaked on 20th July 1969, the US landing Apollo 11 with the first humans on the Moon. The USSR failed on manned lunar missions and cancelled them and concentrated on Earth orbital space stations.

First Man in Space

First Man in Space

The military welfares  were not only the driving force behind the US and Soviet attempts to explore space. The populations of both countries took a keen interest in their space programs. It was a useful way for both to show their superiority.

Space Race – USSR vs. USA



USSR Space Program

On 12th April 1961, the USSR launched Yuri Gagarin into a single orbit around the Earth in a spacecraft called Vostok 1. They called Gagarin as the first cosmonaut, “sailor of the universe”. Vostok 1 launched the Earth over 108 minutes and made its reentry over the Soviet Union, Where Gagarin ejected from the spacecraft at 23,000 ft high and landed by parachute. The International Federation of Aeronautics awarded Gagarin with the world’s first human spaceflight, although their qualifying rules for aeronautical records was to land with their craft. For this reason, the Soviet Union doesn’t make FAI submission because Gagarin did not land with his capsule. In August, Gherman Titov’s second Vostok flight disclosed the ejection landing technique and the FAI committee determined to investigate and conclude that the technological accomplishment of human spaceflight is safe launching, orbiting and return, keeping Gagarin’s and Titov’s records unmarked.

Space Race - USSR

Space Race – USSR

The US Space Program

The US Air Force had been discussing to launch the first man into space. This program studied different types of one-man space vehicles and selected a group of nine pilots. After NASA’s formation, the program was transferred to the civilian agency and renamed the project as Project Mercury on 26th November 1958. NASA selected a new group of astronaut candidates from Navy, Marine test pilots, Air Force and made a group of seven for the program. Astronaut training and Capsule design began immediately, started working towards preparatory suborbital flights on the Redstone missile, and followed by orbital flights on the Atlas. The first flight would start with human, then with a non-human primate and finally the human.

Space Race - US

Space Race – US

Three weeks later, on 5th May 1961, Alan Shepard was the first American in space, launched on  Mercury-Redstone 3, in a spacecraft named as Freedom 7. Though he did not achieve orbit like Gagarin did, he was the first person to try manual control over his spacecraft and retro-rocket firing. After his successful return, he was celebrated as a national hero and honoured with parades in Washington, Los Angeles and New York. He was awarded with NASA Distinguished Service Medal from President John F. Kennedy.

Lunar Landing Program

From 1961 to 1964, NASA’s budget was expanded approximately to 500 percent. The lunar landing program involved roughly 34,000 NASA employees and 375,000 employees of the university and industrial contractors. Apollo suffered a problem in January 1967, when three astronauts were dead when their spacecraft caught fire during a launch simulation. On December 1968, the Apollo 8 was launched, the first manned space mission to the moon by NASA’s launch facility on Merritt Island, near Cape Canaveral, Florida. On 16th July 1969, U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin embark on the Apollo 11 space mission, it was the first lunar landing attempt. After landing successfully on 20th July, Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon’s surface. He was popularly called as the moment “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

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