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Cold War Space Race


Cold War Space Race: Key events during the Cold War Space Race (1957 - 1975)between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Definition and Summary of the Cold War Space Race
Summary and definition:
The Cold War Space Race (1957 - 1975) was a competition in the exploration of space between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Space Race included the exploration of outer space using rocket technology with artificial satellites to send animals and humans into space, and to land people on the Moon.

The Space Race started as the Russians developed rocket technology and launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth, on October 4, 1957. The Space Race ended in 1975 with Apollo-Soyez space project.

The Cold War Facts for kids:  The Start of the Cold War Space Race
Following WW2 and the development of the Atomic bomb, and other nuclear weapons, a period of "non-hostile belligerency" built up between the USA and the USSR referred to as the Cold War. New weapons technology led to new possibilities for the delivery of nuclear weapons and missile technology emerged that could put rockets in space. Rocket technology led to Space technology. The competition between the two great powers increased to include both the Arms Race and then the Space Race.

The Cold War Space Race - Facts for kids
The Space Race was of critical importance to both the USSR and the USA. Both nations wanted to prove to the world that which country had the best scientists, the most advanced technology and the best economic system to support the projects. Americans viewed space as the next frontier, a logical extension of the American tradition of exploration and expansion. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were massive natural barriers between the USA and the rest of the world and provided a sense of security to Americans. This sense of isolationism and security was shattered when the Soviets placed the first successful satellite into orbit. It was called Sputnik.

Sputnik (1957)
Summary and Definition: Sputnik was the name of the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth and was launched by the USSR on October 4, 1957. The word 'Sputnik means "fellow wanderer" in Russian, but has become synonymous with 'satellite' in modern Russian. Sputnik I was the first of a series of Russian artificial satellites sent into orbit around earth during the late 1950s. Sputnik I weighed just 184 lbs, with a diameter is 23 inches across. Sputnik I terrified the American public as the satellite made an orbit every 96 minutes and became a constant reminder and a symbol of Soviet space supremacy. Sputnik I was in orbit around the earth for 3 months after which time it burned up in the atmosphere.

Sputnik - Laika, the First Dog in Space (1958)
Sputnik II would follow, carrying Laika, the first dog in space. Sputnik 3, launched on May 15, 1958, boasted a miniature physics laboratory on board.

US Explorer Satellite
Summary and Definition: On ‎February 1, 1958, the United States successfully launched its own first artificial satellite called the 'Explorer' The Explorer satellite was developed under the US Army's Jupiter project. The US Explorer satellite was the first spacecraft to detect the Van Allen radiation belt.

NASA is established (1958)
The launch of Sputnik I began the establishment of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) on July 29, 1958. and the Cold War Space Race.

Project Mercury (1959)
Summary and Definition: The United States begins a new space program called Project Mercury. The main goal of Project Mercury was to were to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth and recover astronauts and spacecraft safely. Seven men, referred to as the Mercury Seven,  were selected to take part in the Mercury program. Their names were John Glenn Jr., Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Leroy Gordon Cooper, Walter Schirra Jr., Alan Shepard Jr., and Donald "Deke" Slayton. Another goal of Project Mercury was to assess the ability of astronauts to function in space.

Space Flight - Yuri Gagarin (1961)
The Russians again won the space race for putting the first man into orbit. On April 12, 1961 the Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man to orbit the Earth in the Vostok I spacecraft.

President Kennedy's Challenge (1961)
The USA, angry and embarrassed at being behind in the Space Race were determined to win the race to the moon. On May 25, 1961,  President John F. Kennedy went to Congress and announced that he wanted to be  the first country to put a man on the Moon. President Kennedy proclaimed that "this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth". Many were skeptical that NASA could meet the challenge of JFK.

First Americans in Space - Alan Shepherd and Gus Grisom (1961)
Three weeks later, on May 5, 1961, the US launched the Freedom 7 and astronaut Alan Shepherd became the first American in space. On July 21, 1961, Gus Grissom became the second American to travel into space as the pilot of the second Project Mercury flight, Mercury-Redstone 4. The spacecraft of Shepherd and Grissom did not orbit the Earth. This was achieved nearly a year later by John Glenn.

Space Flight - John Glenn orbits the Earth (1962)
On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on the Friendship 7 spacecraft.

Valentina Tereshkova becomes the First Woman in Space (1963)
The USSR launched Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963 and Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.

The Outer Space Treaty
The Outer Space Treaty was signed in January 1967 forming the basis of international space law aimed at the peaceful exploration of space. The treaty banned placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit of Earth, installing them on the Moon or any other celestial body, or otherwise stationing WoMD's in outer space.

Gemini Program - Apollo 8 and the Race to the Moon
The USA established the Apollo Moon program and the Gemini program. Apollo 8 was launched on December 21, 1968 with astronauts Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and Bill Anders. Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth orbit, reach the Earth's Moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. The Russians realized the USA was clearly ahead in the race to the moon. Boris Nikolaevich Petrov called the Apollo 8 flight an "outstanding achievement of American space sciences and technology" and praised the "courage of its three astronauts."

Apollo 11 - Neil Armstrong, the First Man on the Moon (1969)
The goal of the US was to get the first Man on the Moon and the scientists on the Apollo Moon program and the Gemini program worked tirelessly to achieve this aim. The Apollo 11 spacecraft was launched into space on July 16, 1969. The crew Apollo 11 spacecraft were US astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. The journey to the Moon took just three days. When the Apollo 11 spacecraft reached the Moon Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin moved to the Lunar module, called the Eagle, and began their descent to the Moon surface. On July 20, 1969 the Eagle landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong stepped outside the Lunar module and became the first man to walk on the Moon. With his first step on the Moon, Neil Armstrong said "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". The moon mission fulfilled President John Kennedy's dream.

The Space Stations (1971)
The next step in the Cold War Space Race was the development of Space Stations. A Space Station is a large, habitable, artificial satellite used as a long-term base for manned operations in space to enable astronauts and cosmonauts to conduct experiments within the space environment. The Soviets established the first Space Station, Salyut 1, in 1971. The Americans launched their own space station, called Skylab, in 1973.

Apollo–Soyuz Test Project
The successful Gemini and Apollo space programs had resulted in US achieving a huge lead in the Space Race. In 1975 relations between the US and the USSR began to thaw due to the policy of Detente and the two nations became involved in the first US-Soviet joint mission. On July 17, 1975, three NASA astronauts aboard an Apollo spacecraft (Tom Stafford, Vance Brand, and Deke Slayton) linked up with two cosmonauts in their Soyuz capsule (Alexey Leonov and Valeri Kubasov).

The End of the Space Race (1975)
The Apollo-Soyez space project heralded the end of the space race, but the Cold War continued until 1991.

Space Race Timeline
Short details of the Space race are provided in the Space Race Timeline.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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