The space race was one of the competitions that emerged between the United States of America and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The two World War II allies became bitter rivals after the war. They competed economically, politically, and militarily and in space race exploration to outsmart each other. Each country desired to grow stronger than the other on suspicion that the opponent was plotting something terrible against it. Therefore, this paper explores the emergence and development of the space race and its impact on the relationship between the two superpowers.
The emergence and development of the space race saw the two countries launch artificial satellites and sent individuals to the moon (McCormick, 1995). The two nations were essential allies in bringing World War II to an end. After the war, the two countries noted that Germany was already making satellites and rockets. With these developments, they could make launch weapons to bombard the United Kingdom and other cities in Europe without appearing on their radar. These advancements were essential components in the development of both arms and space races.
By 1941 Germany had built ballistic missiles that could orbit around the earth (Dudziak, 2011). It was also experimenting with liquid-fueled rockets that had the goal of reaching high altitudes and traveling long distances. The aim was to use missiles as long-range artillery to get around the Versailles Treaty that had banned the development of long-term cannons. Therefore, when the Soviet Union captured some of the German engineers, they made sure that they taught their engineers about the process of developing satellites and other vital spacecrafts.
Space exploration was a critical arena in the Cold War era. The most important aspect was the dream to send the first person to the moon with each working hard to outsmart the other. Before the space race, there was an atomic bomb race alongside a military one, and later on political (Dudziak, 2011). In 1955 the two countries announced four days apart about their intentions to launch artificial satellites. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that they called Sputnik (traveler in Russian). It was the world’s first artificial satellite and the first human-made object to move along the earth’s orbit. It came as a massive surprise to the United States because the competition was already in the daily lives of all Americans and they were disappointed that USSR was ahead of them.
It was after the Launch of the Sputnik that the U.S. increased its speed of exploration so that it could not cede too much ground to the Soviets. As a result, there was an increase in the intensity of espionage against the Soviets military and space activities. In 1958, the country launched its military satellite, the Explorer that was the design of its scientist Wernher Von Braun. It is also during the same year that the government of President Dwight Eisenhower signed for the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It was a federal government agency whose sole mandate was for space exploration.
During the same period, the federal government created programs that were military oriented to support NASA. The first program was in the Air Force, and it was to explore the military potential in space. Secondly, another program led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was responsible for espionage activities against the Soviet Union and its allies and their space exploration activities.
Unfortunately, even after making these efforts, the Soviet Union launched its first space probe that hit the moon called the Luna 1. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth in a spacecraft that was known as Vostok 1. In the same year in May 1961 Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into space using a ballistic trajectory. In 1962 President Kennedy rallied the country on its journey to send the first person to the moon to avoid another defeat by the Soviet Union (Buzan, 2008). The trip to the moon became a reality in July 1969 with the U.S landing the first human being on the moon with Apollo 11
It is difficult to pinpoint the end date of the race, but by the time the USSR was disintegrating in 1991, the competition was over. In fact, after the dissolution of the USSR, there was greater cooperation between the two nations (Buzan, 2008). While the races were intense, they left many benefits to the world regarding communication, weather satellites, and the presence of human beings in the moon and the international space station. It was also essential in increasing spending in education and research and development that led to the emergence of other forms of technologies that have played a leading role in the technological revolution.
The Cold War period was an era of political conflict, military tension, economic competition, and proxy wars. The countries were involved in the deployment of strategic forces, a lot of aid to vulnerable nations, fought proxy wars and were involved in espionage. Simply put, the Cold War was a competition between communism and capitalism. Maybe the races were vital because they kept the world at peace. They also led to the development of technologies that are important in today’s communication, weather forecasting, and presence of man in space among other benefits.
- Buzan, B. (2008). People, states & fear: an agenda for international security studies in the post-cold war era. Colchester: Ecpr Press
- Dudziak, M. L. (2011). Cold War civil rights: Race and the image of American democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- McCormick, T. J. (1995). America’s half-century: United States foreign policy in the cold war and after. Maryland, MD: JHU Press.