On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union won the first stage of the “Space Race” with the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite.
One of the most important elements of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was the Space Race. Both superpowers sought to be the first ones into space, believing that doing so would both improve national security and prove the technical superiority of their society and way of life.
The Soviets moved into the lead in the race by launching Sputnik. Sputnik was the first artificial Earth satellite. The satellite circled the Earth for three weeks before its batteries died, then for two more months before coming back down and burning up in the atmosphere. Sputnik provided scientists with lots of new information regarding space and the atmosphere.
The Soviets also won the next stage when they sent the first man into space. The United States finally scored a victory by becoming the first country to land on the Moon a few years later in 1969.
Ultimately, the Space Race led to huge advancements in communications, space research, and new technologies. Moreover, many observers believe that Ronald Reagan’s proposed “Star Wars” program to develop space-based military technology was an important factor in the collapse of the communism in 1989, and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
- What were the motivations for the space race between the United States and Soviet Union? What were the possible benefits?
- Interest in space has declined since the 1960s. Why do you think that is? Should we continue to spend money researching outer space?
- Today, there is intense competition between private companies to develop space technology. Is this a good thing? How does the private development of space technology differ from government efforts?
26, Sept. 2018, Real Space Model of Sputnik [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <google.com>.