Space Race Rivalry: the Competition of Soviet Union and United States

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The United States and the Soviet Union had always been in competition to prove who was the greatest country in the world. A way to prove who was the brightest to compete against each other by using technology to see who was superior in spaceflight technology and space exploration. This race between the United States and the Soviet Union helped develop aerospace capabilities, satellites, unmanned space probes, and spaceflight. The competition was very intense, The Space Race is also known as the Cold War in space. Although the Space Race was fueled by rivalry and paranoia, it helped produce rapid improvements and advances in many STEM fields.

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In 1957 the Soviets launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik I, the success of Sputnik I set off fear and panic to the Eisenhower administration (History, n.p). The Sputnik launch sparked Americans to fear the Soviets success due to the new possibility of them now being able of sending off nuclear missiles from Europe to America since. The Soviet Union had surpassed the technological achievements of the United States with the following successful launches of Sputnik II and III that followed. As a result of the Soviets innovations, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration abbreviated as NASA was created in 1958, with the goal of furthering civilian aerospace research (History, n.p). One of NASA’s early objective was to beat the Soviets and launch humans into Earth’s orbit first. Both countries were racing against each other researching and preparing for the first man on the Moon.

For the first half of the Space Race, the Soviet Union was leading the race. The Soviet Union started working on other projects, like building an orbiting space station and flights to Mars and Venus. In April 1961 the Soviet space center sent the first man to enter Earth’s orbit, in a spacecraft called Vostok I (History, n.p). The Soviets might have been ahead but Americans catching up, in February 1962, John Glenn became the first American to enter Earth’s orbit (History, n.p). In 1966 the Soviet space program crash-landed a probe onto the surface of Venus, becoming the first man-made item to reach another planet (History, n.p). Due to the Soviet excelling in the Space Race, President John F. Kennedy announce the Apollo program, with the main objective to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

The Soviet Moon program faced setbacks due to the death of Sergey Korolyov, chief engineer of the Soviet space program in January 1966 (History n.p). NASA also suffered a setback due to Apollo in January 1967, when three astronauts suffered a tragic death after their spacecraft caught fire during a launch simulation (History n.p). The Soviet Union’s lunar landing program proceeded regardless, of the obstacles presented. Strained political relationships and the economic slowdown of the early 1970s affected the space program in both nations. In 1968, The United States sent three astronauts onboard Apollo VIII orbiting the Moon. Then, in July the following year, two astronauts from Apollo XI, Neil Armstrong landed safely on the Moon’s surface becoming the first man on the moon. The words he famously on the moon were “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” They didn’t stop there in 1969, there was a total of six more Apollo missions followed by the end of 1972 (History n.p).

The Space Race didn’t have a clear winner, it is still something that is debated until this day. The United States and the Soviet Union both had triumphs and were equally sometimes ahead of each other. The US did reach the goal of the first person on the moon technically winning the Space Race. In 1975 the Space Race came to an end when the launching of Apollo-Soyuz project, by becoming the first joint US-Soviet space mission (History, n.p). The two nations have then since collaborated on space exploration and projects together. One of their joint projects Apollo-Soyuz mission sent U.S. astronauts into space aboard an Apollo spacecraft that docked in orbit with a Soviet-made Soyuz vehicle (History, n.p). When the commanders of the two crafts greeted each other, their handshake in space served as a symbol of an improving professional relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union towards the end of the Cold War-era.

Although the Cold War was fueled by rivalry, the Space Race only benefits our human society it was more of a healthy relationship that benefited everyone. Now we have hundreds of satellites orbiting the Earth providing us from weather forecasting to navigation to global communications. Our advances in space research have now greatly enhanced our theoretical and practical understanding of astronomy, meteorology, physics and the various earth sciences. Ever since the Space Race has come to an end The United States has halted their space programs. Due to the expensive funding needed to find a space trip, NASA has not been making much space journeys and have still been focusing on building spacecraft. Billionaires like Elon Musk have started to fund private projects like Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), where he oversees the development, manufacturing, and pioneering of reusable rockets and spacecraft. In hopes of one day achieving to dramatically reducing the cost of access to space. 

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