The Cold War Space Race

The "Space Race" took place between the United States and the USSR, beginning in the 1950s until the year 1991.

What Was the Cold War Space Race?

The Cold War Space Race refers to the direct competition between the United States of America and the Soviet Union between the 1950s and 1991. The technology used in the space race has origins to Adolf Hitler's Germany - the Nazis developed the V2 rocket as a weapon, which would become the basis of modern day rockets. This contest pitted the two superpowers directly against one another as both were trying to prove their technological dominance. With the development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), that had the ability to leave the Earth's atmosphere, a war for space supremacy began. On July 31, 1956, The United States publicly declared it would launch an artificial satellite, and only 2 days later, the Soviet Union declared the same.


On October 4, 1957, Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union. In order to ensure authenticity of the satellite, the scientist who designed Sputnik fitted the satellite with a transmitter that would send a simple beeping signal back to Earth. This signal was created with the purpose of amateur radio operators (from anywhere on Earth) being able to hear it. This would prove that the Soviet Union had in fact put the first artificial satellite into space. This was a shock to the United States, politically, and technologically due to the perception that the United States was more advanced than the Soviet Union. Only 32 days later, Sputnik 2 was launched, which contained the first animal in space, a dog named Laika. The 1950s ended with the United States launching several of its own satellites, which signified the beginning of the race.

Humans in Space

The 1960s saw a rapid expansion in space exploration for both nations. During this decade, the Soviet Union flew animals and plants into space which survived, put the first man and woman into space, photographed the dark side of the moon, and flew past the planet of Venus, just to name a few of their achievements. On the other hand, the United States also advanced their technological capabilities to the point of having the first piloted space flight by a human, unmanned space vehicles that could fly past and take pictures of Mars, achieving a 14 day space flight by a human (the longest at the time), and creating a satellite navigation system, among others. The United States' crowning achievement in the Space Race came at the very end of the 1960s.

The Moon Landing by the United States occurred on July 20, 1969 and signified the absolute peak and winding down of the Space Race. Apollo 11's mission was broadcast via live television and was an absolutely stunning event for the entire world. After taking many samples of lunar material and placing an American flag on the surface of the Moon, President John F. Kennedy and NASA's vision of landing a man on the moon became reality. The Space Race was an extension of the Cold War ideology, two superpowers fighting for supreme dominance in every aspect of life, and whoever was victorious in the Space Race, was seemingly the superior country politically and technologically. The Space Race consumed a lot of money, time, and resources for both countries, but it wasn't until 1991 that both countries cooperated with regard to spaceflight and exploration.

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