Space Race: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Depiction of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project showing the docking of American and Soviet spacecraft in Earth orbit, 1975

The Space Race was a heated[1][2] competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, as each side tried to match or better the other's accomplishments in exploring outer space. It involved the efforts to explore outer space with artificial satellites, to send man into space, and to land him on the Moon.

The Space Race effectively began after the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. The term originated as an analogy to the arms race. The Space Race became an important part of the cultural, technological, and ideological rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Space technology became a particularly important arena in this conflict, because of both its potential military applications and the morale-boosting social benefits.



Rockets have interested scientists and amateurs for centuries. The Chinese used them as weapons beginning in the Song Dynasty, and simple (but inaccurate) iron rockets were common ship-and land-based weapons by the 19th century. Russian pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky theorized in the 1880s on multi-stage, liquid fuel rockets which might reach space and established the basics of rocket science; his rocket equation, which determines flight velocity, is still used in the design of modern rockets today. Tsiolkovsky also wrote the first theoretical description of a man-made satellite. In 1926, American Robert H. Goddard designed and launched the first known liquid-fueled rocket. While his first design was uncontrolled, he soon invented gyro-stabilized systems that took rocket technology well on its way toward becoming practical space vehicles.

German contributions

In the mid-1920s, German aerospace engineers experimented with liquid-fuel rockets capable of reaching high altitudes and traversing long distances. In 1932, the Reichswehr (predecessor of the Wehrmacht), considered rockets as long-range artillery, because the Versailles Treaty forbade long-range cannon. In the Second World War (1939–45), Wernher von Braun, an aspiring rocket engineer developed rocket weapons for Nazi Germany (1933–45). In 1942, the Army Rocket Center, at Peenemünde, introduced the A-4 rocket, the first to reach outer space. In 1943, Germany began mass producing the A-4 as the Vergeltungswaffe 2 (“Vengeance Weapon” 2), a ballistic missile with a 300km.-range (185 mi), and porting a 1,000 kgm. (2,200 lb) warhead.

In 1945, at War’s end, American, British, and Soviet scientific intelligence teams competed to capture the rockets, technology, and rocket engineers of the German Army Rocket Center. Each of the Allies captured a share of the available Nazi scientists, but, with Operation Paperclip, the US benefited most, recruiting Wernher von Braun, the Technical Director of the Army Rocket Center, and many others, who later developed the missile and space exploration programs of the United States in the first decade of Space Age (1957).

Cold War origins

After the Second World War, the US and the USSR, once wartime allies, became involved in a Cold War (1945–91) of espionage and propaganda. In the event, the United States Air Force ended the war a large air-refuelable, strategic bomber air force, and advance bases in countries close to Soviet airspace. Having neither an equivalent air force, nor analogous advance bases near the continental United States, the USSR countered with long-range rockets and missiles. The technologies for an Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) could be applied to a rocket designed for manned space flight.

In 1946, the US ICBM technology was the MX-774 missile, but the program was discontinued. Moreover, in comparison with a long-range bomber air force, the intercontinental missile appeared cost-ineffective, because ICBM technology was unrefined, and perceived as unreliable, so it went undeveloped; the US was behind the USSR. In 1954, the Von Neumann Committee confronted the American crisis of intellectual confidence, and urged the US to fund ICBM technology development to achieve parity with the USSR. Culturally, the Committee proposed that such Soviet–American inequality was psychologically untenable for the American national amour propre.

Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1 was the size of a large beachball, weighed more than 80 kg and orbited the Earth for more than two months. (Replica pictured)

On July 29, 1957, in recognition of the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year, the White House announced that the U.S. intended to launch satellites by the spring of 1958. This became known as Project Vanguard. On July 31, the Soviets announced that they intended to launch a satellite by the fall of 1957.

On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1 into space, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, thus beginning the Space Race and making the USSR the first space power.[3] A month later, the USSR successfully orbited Sputnik 2, with the first living passenger, a dog named Laika.

In the Soviet Union, a country recovering from a devastating war, the launch of Sputnik and the following program of space exploration were met with great interest from the public.[4] It was also important and encouraging for Soviet citizens to see the proof of technical prowess in the new era.

In the meantime, a public and embarrassing Project Vanguard launch failure had occurred at Cape Canaveral. But nearly four months after the launch of Sputnik 1, the United States successfully launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, with an alternate program on an accelerated schedule, becoming the second "space power".

Sputnik's success and Vanguard's failure caused such political turmoil in the United States that the period is known as the Sputnik crisis. The Eisenhower administration quickly enacted several initiatives to address the perceived technical shortcomings in the United States. Within a year, the United States Congress passed the legislation creating NASA, as well as the National Defense Education Act, the most far-reaching federally-sponsored education initiative in the nation's history.[citation needed] The education bill authorized expenditures of more than $1 billion for a wide range of reforms including new school construction, fellowships and loans to encourage promising students to seek higher education, new efforts in vocational education to meet critical manpower shortages in the defense industry, and a host of other programs.[5] NASAs Mercury manned space program was initiated by 1959.

Apart from their political value as technological achievements, these first satellites had real scientific value. Sputnik helped to determine the density of the upper atmosphere, through measurement from the ground of the satellite's orbital changes. It also provided data on radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere. Pressurized nitrogen, in the satellite's body, provided the first opportunity for meteoroid detection. If a meteoroid penetrated the satellite's outer hull, it would be detected by the temperature data sent back to Earth. Engineering and biological data from Sputnik 2 and the dog Laika were transmitted back to Earth. Two photometers were on board for measuring solar radiation (ultraviolet and x-ray emissions) and cosmic rays. Explorer 1 flight data led to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt by James Van Allen, considered one of the outstanding discoveries of the International Geophysical Year.

As with the Soviet public, the American public followed the succession of launches, and building replicas of rockets became a popular hobby.[citation needed]

Explorer 1 model at NASA news conference.

Satellite communications

The first communications satellite, the American Project SCORE, was launched on 18 December 1958, and relayed a Christmas message from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the world. Other notable examples of satellite communication during (or spawned by) the Space Race include:

1960: Echo 1A: first passive communications satellite
1962: Telstar: the first "active" communications satellite (experimental transoceanic)
1963: Syncom 2: the first geosynchronous communications satellite (Clarke orbit)
1972: Anik 1': first domestic communications satellite (Canada)
1974: Westar: first U.S. domestic communications satellite
1976: Marisat: first mobile communications satellite

The United States launched the first geosynchronous satellite, Syncom-2, on 26 July 1963. The success of this class of satellite meant that a simple satellite dish no longer needed to track the orbit of the satellite because that orbit remained geostationary. Henceforth ordinary citizens could use satellite-mediated communications transmissions for television broadcasts, after a one-time setup.

Living creatures in space

Animals in space

Fruit flies launched by the United States on captured German V-2 rockets in 1946 became the first reported animals sent into space.

The first animal to orbit the earth, the dog Laika (in English, "Barker"), traveled in the Soviet Union's Sputnik 2 in 1957. The dog was not meant to be returned back to Earth, and died five to seven hours after launch from overheating and stress. In 1960 Soviet space dogs Belka and Strelka orbited the earth and successfully returned.[6]

The U.S. space program imported chimpanzees from Africa and sent at least two into space before launching their first human orbiter. The Soviet Union launched tortoises, flies, and mealworms in 1968 on Zond 5, which became the first animals to fly around the Moon.

Humans in space

The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space when he entered orbit in the Soviet Union's Vostok on April 12, 1961, a day now celebrated as a holiday in Russia and in many other countries. He orbited the Earth for 108 minutes. The lead architects behind the Vostok 1 mission were the Soviet rocket scientists Sergey Korolyov and Kerim Kerimov.[7]

Twenty-three days later, on sub-orbital mission Freedom 7, Alan Shepard entered space for the United States. On 20 February 1962 John Glenn became the first American to successfully orbit Earth, completing three orbits in Friendship 7.

The first dual-manned flights also originated in the Soviet Union, on 11 August - 15 August 1962. Soviet Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on 16 June 1963 in Vostok 6. Sergei Korolev, the Soviet Space Agency's chief designer, had initially scheduled further Vostok missions of longer duration, but following the announcement of the Apollo program, Premier Khrushchev demanded more firsts. The first flight with more than one crew member was the Soviet Union's Voskhod 1, a modified version of the Vostok craft, took off on 12 October 1964 carrying Komarov, Feoktistov, and Yegorov. This flight also marked the first occasion on which a crew did not wear spacesuits.

Alexey Leonov, from Voskhod 2, launched by the Soviet Union on 18 March 1965, carried out the first spacewalk. This mission nearly ended in disaster; Leonov had difficulty reentering the capsule, and because of a poor retrorocket fire, the ship landed 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi) off target. By this time Khrushchev had left office, and the new Soviet leadership would not commit to an all-out lunar landing effort.

Lunar missions

Lunokhod 1 lunar rover built by the Soviet Union. Lunokhod was the first roving remote-controlled robot to land on another world.

Though the achievements made by the United States and the Soviet Union brought great pride to their respective nations, there was a great political determination in the United States not to be seen as a nation lagging behind in the field of space exploration. This led to then-President Kennedy's announcement in 1961 that the United States "should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."[8] Before this goal could be achieved, unmanned spacecraft had to first explore the Moon by photography and demonstrate their ability to land safely on it.

Unmanned probes

Following the Soviet success in sending the first satellite into orbit, the Americans focused their efforts on sending a probe to the Moon. They called this first attempt the Pioneer program. The Soviet Lunar program became operational with the launch of Luna 1 on 4 January 1959, and Luna 1 became the first probe to reach the vicinity of the Moon. The first craft to reach the surface of the Moon was Luna 2, launched on 12 September 1959. In addition to the Pioneer program, there were three specific American programs: the Ranger program, the Lunar Orbiter program, and the robotic Surveyor program, with the goal of locating potential Apollo landing sites on the Moon.

Lunar landing

After the Soviet successes, especially Gagarin's flight, United States President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson looked for an American project that would capture the public’s imagination. The Apollo Program met many of their objectives and promised to defeat arguments from politicians both on the left (who favored social programs) and the right (who favored a more military project).[citation needed]

Apollo’s advantages included:

  • economic benefits to several key states in the next election;
  • closing the "missile gap" claimed by Kennedy during the 1960 election through dual-use technology;
  • technical and scientific spin-off benefits

In private conversation with NASA Administrator James E. Webb, Kennedy said:

Everything that we do ought to really be tied into getting onto the Moon ahead of the Russians. ...otherwise we shouldn't be spending this kind of money because I'm not that interested in space. ...the only justification for it [the cost] because we hope to beat them [the Soviet Union] and demonstrate that starting behind, as we did by a couple years, by God, we passed them.[9]

Kennedy was reminding Webb of the national security justification for the Space Race as a vital front in the Cold War. Kennedy was more explicit in his famous 1962 speech at Rice Stadium when he stated:

The Mariner spacecraft now on its way to Venus is the most intricate instrument in the history of space science. The accuracy of that shot is comparable to firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and dropping it in this stadium between the 40-yard lines. ... For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.

Kennedy and Johnson managed to swing public opinion: by 1965, 58 percent of Americans favored Apollo, up from 33 percent in 1963.[citation needed] After Johnson became President in 1963, his continuing support allowed the program to succeed.

Soviet Soyuz rockets became the first reliable means to transport objects into Earth orbit.[citation needed]

The Soviet Union showed a greater ambivalence about human visits to the Moon. Khrushchev wanted neither "defeat" by another power, nor the expense of such a project. In October 1963 he characterized the Soviet Union as "not at present planning flight by cosmonauts to the Moon"[citation needed], while adding that they had not dropped out of the race. A year passed before the Soviet Union committed itself to a Moon-landing attempt.

In December 1968, the United States became the front runner in the Space Race when James Lovell, Frank Borman, and Bill Anders orbited the moon. In doing so, they also became the first humans to celebrate Christmas in space, and a few days later they safely splashed down.

Kennedy proposed joint programs, such as a Moon landing by U.S. and Soviet astronauts and improved weather-monitoring satellites. Khrushchev, sensing an attempt to steal Russian space technology, rejected these ideas.

Sergei Korolev, the Soviet Space Agency's chief designer who designed the R-7 rocket which sent Sputnik into orbit, had started promoting his Soyuz craft and the N1 launcher rocket that had the capacity for a manned Moon landing. Khrushchev directed Korolev's design bureau to arrange further space firsts by modifying the existing Vostok technology, while a second team started building a completely new launcher and craft, the Proton booster and the Zond, for a manned cislunar flight in 1966.

In 1964 the new Soviet leadership gave Korolev the backing for a Moon landing effort and brought all manned projects under his direction. With Korolev's death and the failure of the first Soyuz flight in 1967, the coordination of the Soviet Moon landing program quickly unraveled. Korolev's first choice for a lunar landing was Vladimir Komarov, but with Komarov's death on the Soyuz 1 in 1967, Yuri Gagarin and Aleksei Leonov became the most likely candidates.

However, with Gagarin's death and the successive launch failures of the N1 booster in 1969, plans for a manned landing suffered first delay and ultimately cancellation. A significant setback was the N-1 explosion on July 3 1969. A loose bolt was sucked up by a fuel pump, and after an engine shutdown the rocket hit the launchpad, destroying itself and the launch facility. No people were killed.

A mounted slowscan TV camera shows Neil Armstrong as he climbs down the ladder to surface.

While unmanned Soviet probes had reached the Moon before any U.S. craft, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface on 21 July 1969, after landing the previous day. Commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong received backup from command-module pilot Michael Collins and lunar-module pilot Buzz Aldrin in an event watched by over 500 million people around the world. Social commentators widely recognize the lunar landing as one of the defining moments of the 20th century, and Armstrong's words on his first touching the Moon's surface became similarly memorable:

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Problems listening to this file? See media help.

Unlike other international rivalries, the Space Race was not motivated by the desire for territorial expansion. After its successful landings on the Moon, the United States explicitly disclaimed the right to ownership of any part of the Moon.

Other successes

Missions to other planets

Venus became the first planet flown past by a spacecraft in December 14, 1962.

The Soviet Union first sent planetary probes to both Venus and Mars in 1960. The first spacecraft to successfully fly by Venus, the United States' Mariner 2, did so on 14 December 1962. It sent back surprising data on the high surface temperature and air density of Venus. Since it carried no cameras, its findings did not capture public attention as did images from space probes, which far exceeded the capacity of astronomers' Earth-based telescopes.

The Soviet Union's Venera 7, launched in 1970, became the first craft to land on Venus. Venera 9 then transmitted the first pictures from the surface of another planet. These represent only two in the long Venera series; several other previous Venera spacecraft performed flyby operations and attempted landing missions. Seven other Venera landers followed.

The United States launched Mariner 10, which flew by Venus on its way to Mercury, in 1974. It became the first and only spacecraft to fly by Mercury for the next 34 years.

Mariner 4, launched in 1965 by the United States, became the first probe to fly by Mars; it transmitted completely unexpected images. The first spacecraft to land on Mars, Mars 3, launched in 1971 by the USSR, did not return pictures. The U.S. Viking landers of 1976 transmitted the first such pictures.

Launches and docking

The U.S. craft Gemini 7 and Gemini 6A spaceflights completed the world's first space rendezvous mission between two manned spacecraft on 15 December 1965. The spacecrafts came within a meter and kept station with each other for several orbits. [10]

Another U.S. craft Gemini 8, performed the first orbital space docking on 16 March 1966. The first automatic space docking linked the Soviet Union's Cosmos 186 and Cosmos 188 (two unmanned Soyuz spacecraft) on 30 October 1967. The first launch from the sea took place with the United States' Scout B, on 26 April 1967.

The first space station, the Soviet Union's Salyut 1, commenced operations on 7 June 1971. The lead architect behind the Salyut 1 was the Soviet rocket scientist Kerim Kerimov.[7][11]

Military competition

Out of view, but no less real a competition, the drive to develop space for military uses paralleled scientific efforts. Well before the launch of Sputnik 1, both the United States and the Soviet Union started developing plans for reconnaissance satellites. The Soviet Zenit spacecraft, which by the dual-use designed in by Korolev eventually became Vostok, began as a photoimaging satellite. It competed with the United States Air Force's Discoverer series. Discoverer XIII provided the first payload recovered from space in August 1960 — one day ahead of the first Soviet recovered payload.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union developed major military space programs, often following a pattern whereby the United States only completed a mockup before its program ended, while the Soviet Union built, or even orbited, theirs:

  1. Supersonic Intercontinental Cruise Missile: Navaho (test program stopped) vs. Buran cruise missile (plan)
  2. Small Winged Spacecraft: X-20 Dyna-Soar (mockup) vs. MiG-105 (flight-tested)
  3. Satellite Inspection Capsule: Blue Gemini (mockup) vs. Soyuz interceptor (plan)
  4. Military Space Station: MOL (plan) vs. Almaz (flown somewhat modified as Salyut 2, 3, and 5)
  5. Military Capsule with hatch in heat shield: Gemini B (tested crewless in space) vs. VA TKS, also known as Merkur space capsule (flown crewless as part of TKS)
  6. Ferry to Military Space Station: Gemini Ferry (plan) vs. TKS (flown crewless in space, and docked with a Salyut)

End of the Space Race

The 17 July 1975 rendezvous of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft traditionally marks the end of the Space Race

While the Sputnik 1 launch can clearly be called the start of the Space Race, its end is more debatable. Most hotly contested during the 1960s, the Space Race continued apace through the U.S. Apollo moon landing of 1969. Although they followed Apollo 11 with five more manned lunar landings, U.S. space scientists turned to new arenas. Skylab was to gather data, and the Space Shuttle was intended to return spaceships intact from space journeys. Russians claimed that by first sending a man into space they had won this unofficial "race," however U.S. citizens claimed that by first landing a man on the moon they had won. In any event, as the Cold War subsided, and as other nations began to develop their own space programs, the notion of a continuing "race" between the two superpowers became less real.

Both nations had developed manned military space programs. The United States Air Force had proposed using its Titan missile to launch the Dyna-Soar hypersonic glider to use in intercepting enemy satellites. The plan for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (using hardware based on the Gemini program to carry out surveillance missions) superseded Dyna-Soar, but this also suffered cancellation. The Soviet Union commissioned the Almaz program for a similar manned military space station, which merged with the Salyut program.

The Space Race slowed after the Apollo landing, which many observers describe as its apex or even as its end. Others, including space historian Carole Scott and Romanian Dr. Florin Pop's Cold War Project, feel its end, as well as the possible end of the Cold War, came most clearly with the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. The Soviet craft Soyuz 19 met and docked in space with America's Apollo, allowing astronauts from the "rival" nations to pass into each other's ships and participate in combined experimentation. Although each country's endeavors in space persisted, they went largely in different directions, and the notion of a continuing two-nation "race" became outdated after Apollo-Soyuz.

However, the Soviet leadership was alarmed at the prospect of U.S. Air Force involvement with the Space Shuttle program and began the competing Buran and Energia projects. In the early 1980s the commencement of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative further escalated competition that only resolved with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989.

Timeline of firsts (1957-1975)

A chart showing one interpretation of relative accomplishments with space probes and human space flight by graphing the cumulative achievement of a specific set of those accomplishments.
Date Significance  USSR Mission  US Mission
August 21, 1957 First intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) R-7 Semyorka/SS-6 Sapwood
October 4, 1957 First artificial satellite
First signals from space
Sputnik 1
November 3, 1957 First animal in orbit, the dog Laika Sputnik 2
January 31, 1958 First detection of Van Allen radiation belts Explorer 1-ABMA
March 17, 1958 First solar powered satellite Vanguard 1-NRL
December 18, 1958 First communications satellite Project SCORE-ABMA
January 2, 1959 First firing of a rocket in Earth orbit
First reaching Earth escape velocity
First detection of solar wind
Luna 1
January 4, 1959 First man-made object in heliocentric orbit Luna 1
February 17, 1959 First weather satellite Vanguard 2-NASA (NRL)1
February 28, 1959 First satellite in a polar orbit Discoverer 1-DARPA
August 7, 1959 First photograph of Earth from orbit Explorer 6-NASA
September 13, 1959 First impact into another world (the Moon) Luna 2
October 4, 1959 First photos of far side of the Moon Luna 3
April 1, 1960 First Imaging weather satellite TIROS-1-NASA
July 5, 1960 First reconnaissance satellite GRAB-1-NRL
August 11, 1960 First satellite recovered intact from orbit Discoverer 13-USAF
August 12, 1960 First passive communications satellite Echo 1A-NASA
August 18, 1960 First reconnaissance satellite KH-1 9009-USAF
August 19, 1960 First plants and animals returned alive from space Sputnik 5
1961 First launch from orbit
First mid-course corrections
First spin-stabilisation
Venera 1
April 12, 1961 First manned orbital flight (Yuri Gagarin) Vostok 1
March 7, 1962 First orbital solar observatory OSO-1-NASA
August 12, 1962 First simultaneous launch of two manned spacecraft
First ship-to-ship radio contact
Vostok 3 and Vostok 4
December 14, 1962 First planetary flyby (Venus Mariner 2-NASA
June 16, 1963 First woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova)
First civilian in space
Vostok 6
July 19, 1963 First reusable manned spacecraft (X-15, suborbital) X-15 Flight 90-NASA
July 26, 1963 First geosynchronous satellite Syncom 2-NASA
December 5, 1963 First satellite navigation system NAVSAT-USN
August 19, 1964 First geostationary satellite Syncom 3-NASA
October 12, 1964 First multi-man crew (3 members) Voskhod 1
March 18, 1965 First extra-vehicular activity Voskhod 2
July 14, 1965 First Mars flyby Mariner 4-NASA
December 15, 1965 First orbital rendezvous (station-keeping, no docking) Gemini 6A/Gemini 7-NASA
February 3, 1966 First soft landing on another celestial body (the Moon)
First photos from another celestial body
Luna 9
March 1, 1966 First impact into another planet (Venus) Venera 3
March 16, 1966 First manned docking of two spacecraft Gemini 8/Agena target vehicle-NASA
April 3, 1966 First artificial satellite around another world (the Moon) Luna 10
October 30, 1967 First docking of two unmanned spacecraft Cosmos 186/Cosmos 188
December 7, 1968 First orbital ultraviolet observatory OAO-2-NASA
December 21, 1968 First manned orbit of another celestial body (Moon) Apollo 8-NASA
January 16, 1969 First crew exchange in space Soyuz 4/Soyuz 5
July 21, 1969 First humans on the Moon
First space launch from a celestial body
Apollo 11-NASA
November 19, 1969 First precisely targeted landing on the surface of a celestial body (Moon) Apollo 12/Surveyor 3-NASA
September 24, 1970 First automatic sample return from the Moon Luna 16
November 23, 1970 First remote-controlled mobile vehicle on another celestial body Lunokhod 1
December 12, 1970 First X-ray orbital observatory Uhuru (satellite)-NASA
December 15, 1970 First soft landing on another planet (Venus)
First signals from another planet
Venera 7
April 23, 1971 First manned space station Salyut 1
June, 1971 First Manned orbital observatory Orion 1
July 31, 1971 First mobile vehicle lunar rover driven by humans on another celestial body Apollo 15-NASA
November 14, 1971 First orbit around another planet (Mars) Mariner 9-NASA
November 27, 1971 First impact into Mars Mars 2
December 2, 1971 First soft Mars landing
First signals from Mars surface
Mars 3
March 3, 1972 First human made object sent on escape trajectory away from the Sun Pioneer 10-NASA
July 15, 1972 First mission to enter the asteroid belt and leave inner solar system Pioneer 10-NASA
15 November 1972 First orbital gamma ray observatory SAS-2-NASA
December 3, 1973 First Jupiter flyby Pioneer 10-NASA
February 5, 1974 First planetary gravitational assist (Venus flyby) Mariner 10-NASA
March 29, 1974 First Mercury flyby Mariner 10-NASA
July 15, 1975 First multinational manned mission Apollo-Soyuz Test Project Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

Organization, funding, and economic impact

The huge expenditures and bureaucracy needed to organize successful space exploration led to the creation of national space agencies. The United States and the Soviet Union developed programs focused solely on the scientific and industrial requirements for these efforts.

On 29 July 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When it began operations on 1 October 1958, NASA consisted mainly of the four laboratories and some 8,000 employees of the government's 46-year-old research agency for aeronautics, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). While its predecessor, NACA, operated on a US$5 million budget, the NASA budget rapidly accelerated to US$5 billion per year, including huge sums for subcontractors from the private sector. The Apollo 11 Moon landing, the high point of NASA's success, cost an estimated 20 to 25 billion dollars.

The amount spent by U.S. on the space race from 1957 - 1975 is estimated to be about $100 billion in 2004 inflation adjusted dollars. [1]

Lack of reliable statistics makes it difficult to compare U.S. and Soviet Union space spending, especially during the Khrushchev years. However in 1989, the Chief of Staff of the Soviet Armed Services, General M. Moiseyev, reported that the Soviet Union had allocated 6.9 billion rubles (about US$4 billion) to its space program that year.[12] Other Soviet officials estimated that their total manned space expenses totalled about that amount over the entire duration of the programs, with some lower unofficial estimates of about four and half billion rubles. In addition to ambiguity of the figures, such comparisons must also take into account the likely effect of Soviet propaganda, which pursued the goal of making the Soviet Union look strong and of confusing the Western analysis.

Organizational issues, particularly internal rivalries, also plagued the Soviet effort. The Soviet Union had nothing like NASA (the Russian Aviation and Space Agency originated only in the 1990s). Too many political issues in science and too many personal views handicapped Soviet progress. Every Soviet chief designer had to stand for his own ideas, looking for the patronage of a communist official. In 1964, between the various chief designers, the Soviet Union was developing 30 different programs of launcher and spacecraft design. Following the death of Korolev, the Soviet space program became reactive, attempting to maintain parity with the United States. In 1974 the Soviet Union reorganized its space program, creating the Energia project to duplicate the U.S. Space Shuttle with Shuttle Buran.

The Soviets also operated in the face of an economic disadvantage. Although the Soviet economy was the second largest in the world; the U.S. economy was the largest. Some observers have argued that the high economic cost of the space race, along with the extremely expensive arms race, eventually deepened the economic crisis of the Soviet system during the late 1970s and 1980s and was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.[citation needed]



When the US Apollo 15 left the moon, the astronauts left behind a memorial in honor of all the people who had perished during the efforts to reach the moon from both the Soviet Union and the United States. In the United States, the first astronauts to die during direct participation in space travel or preparation served in Apollo 1: Command Pilot "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger Chaffee. These three died in a fire during a ground test on 27 January 1967.

Flights of the Soviet Union's Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11 resulted in cosmonaut deaths. Soyuz 1, launched into orbit on 23 April 1967, carried a single cosmonaut, Colonel Vladimir Komarov, who died when the spacecraft crashed after return to Earth because of parachute failure. In 1971, Soyuz 11 cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov asphyxiated during reentry. Since 1971, the Soviet/Russian space program has suffered no further losses.

Other astronauts died while training for space flight, including four Americans (Ted Freeman, Elliot See, Charlie Bassett, Clifton Williams) who died in crashes of T-38 aircraft. Soviet Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, met a similar death when he crashed in a MiG-15 'Fagot' while training for a Soyuz mission, in 1968.

The worst disaster in rocketry was probably the R-16 failure in 1960, when improper shutdown and control procedures during hasty on-pad repairs caused the missile's second stage to fire straight onto the full propellant tanks in the still-attached first stage. The toxic fuel and fire killed around 100 top Soviet military and technical personnel.

Advances in technology and education

Technology, especially in aerospace engineering and electronic communication, advanced greatly during this period. The effects of the Space Race however went far beyond rocketry, physics, and astronomy. "Space age technology" extended to fields as diverse as home economics and forest defoliation studies, and the push to win the race changed the very ways in which students learned science.

American concerns that they had fallen so quickly behind the Soviets in the race to space led quickly to a push by legislators and educators for greater emphasis on mathematics and on the physical sciences in American schools. The United States' National Defense Education Act of 1958 increased funding for these goals from childhood education through the post-graduate level. To this day over 1,200 American high schools retain their own planetarium installations, a situation unparalleled in any other country worldwide and a direct consequence of the Space Race.

The scientists fostered by these efforts helped develop for space exploration technologies which have seen adapted uses ranging from the kitchen to athletic fields. Dried watermelon and ready-to-eat foods, in particular food sterilisation and package sealing techniques, stay-dry clothing, and even no-fog ski goggles have their roots in space science.

Today over a thousand artificial satellites orbit earth, relaying communications data around the planet and facilitating remote sensing of data on weather, vegetation, and human movements to nations who employ them. In addition, much of the micro-technology which fuels everyday activities from time-keeping to enjoying music derives from research initially driven by the Space Race.

And with all these advances since the first Sputnik was launched, the former Soviet Union's R-7 (missile) rocket, that marked the beginning the space race, is still in use today, notably servicing the ISS.

Recent events

The Space Shuttle Columbia seconds after engine ignition, 1981 (NASA).

Although its pace has slowed, space exploration continues to advance long after the demise of the initial space race. The United States launched the first reusable spacecraft (Space shuttle) on the 20th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, 12 April 1981. On 15 November 1988, the Soviet Union launched Buran, their first and only reusable spacecraft. It has never been used again after the first flight. Instead the Soviet Union pursued a program of space stations.

These and other nations continue to launch probes, satellites of many types, and space telescopes. In contrast to the years of the initial space race, recent space exploration has proceeded, to some extent, in worldwide cooperation, the high point of which is the construction and operation of the International space station. At the same time, the international space race between smaller space powers since the end of the 20th century can be considered the foundation and expansion of markets of commercial rocket launches and space tourism.

The European Space Agency has taken the lead in commercial launches since the introduction of the Ariane 4, but is in competition with NASA, Russia, Sea Launch (private), China, India and others. Europe's own ESA-designed manned shuttle Hermes and space station Columbus, and other countries' manned shuttle and capsule programs were under development early on in Europe. However these projects were aborted, and Europe did not become the third major space power. Europe has various disparate satellites, has utilized Spacelab and the manned module aboard US Shuttles, and has sent probes to comets and Mars. It also participates in ISS with its own module and the unmanned cargo spacecraft ATV. Now ESA has a program for development of an independent multi-function manned spacecraft CSTS scheduled for completion in 2018. The ESA's further goals have culminated in an ambitious plan called the Aurora Programme which intends to send a human mission to Mars soon after 2030. A set of various landmark missions to reach this goal are currently under consideration. The ESA has a multi-lateral partnership, and plans for spacecraft and further missions with foreign participation and co-funding.[13]

The United States continues missions to the ISS and other goals with the high-cost Shuttle system. The Space Shuttle, however, will be retired in 2011. It also continues other space exploration, including wide participation with the ISS with a some of its own modules and by operating the Shuttle support missions. It also plans a set of unmanned Mars probes, military satellites, and more. The Constellation space program, begun by President George W. Bush in 2004, aims to launch a next-generation multifunction Orion spacecraft by 2018. A subsequent return to the Moon by 2020 is to be followed by manned flights to Mars.

Russia, the successor to the Soviet Union, has high potential but smaller funding. Its own space programs, some of a military nature, perform several functions. They offer a wide commercial launch service while continuing to support the ISS with a several of their own modules. They also operate manned and cargo spacecrafts which will continue after US Shuttle program ends. They are developing a new multi-function PPTS manned spacecraft for use in 2018 and have plans to perform manned moon missions also. The program aims to put a man on the moon in the 2020s, becoming the second country to do so.

These three, the European Space Agency, the United States, and Russia, have similar programs for new planned spaceflight targeted to begin in 2018. However they have no planned Space Shuttle replacements.

Japan, China, and India are increasingly capable of competing in space research and activity. These nations form the main players in the Asian space race.

The People's Republic of China leads this group of Asian nations in recent achievement and current plans. While they possess less funding then Europes ESA and the United State's NASA, they have achieved successful manned space flights since 2003. They currently operate a commercial launch service and own multiple satellites. The Chinese space program has definite plans for its own space station and is developing a program to send unmanned probes to Mars in the near future. These recent achievements and pending operations position China as a possible 3rd space power. The aggressive progress has not gone unnoticed by other nations. The United States Pentagon released a report in 2006 detailing concerns of China's growing presence in space, including its capability for military action.[14] In 2007 China violated an international consensus against military maneuvers in space by testing a ballistic missile designed to destroy satellites in orbit.

ISRO, India's national space agency, maintains an active space program. It operates a small commercial launch service and launched a successful unmanned lunar mission dubbed Chandrayaan-1 in October, 2007. India has plans for a further unmanned mission to the Moon in the near future, as well as a missions to Mars by 2012. The ISRO is currently developing a small shuttle system. With the recent success and a developing missions for manned inter-planet flights by 2025 to 2030, India has positioned itself as a contender for the fourth space power.[15]

Japan's space agency, JAXA, leads its current position as the third major player in the Asian space race. While they do not maintain a commercial launch service, Japan has deployed a module in the ISS and operates an unmanned cargo spacecraft, they H-II Transfer Vehicle. JAXA is the space agency to launch a Mars fly-by probe. Their lunar probe, SELENE, is touted as the most sophisticated lunar exploration mission in the post-[[Apollo_program|Apollo] era. Although Japan developed the HOPE-X, Kankoh-maru, and Fuji manned capsule spacecraft, none of them have been launched. Japan's current ambition is to deploy a new manned spacecraft by 2025, and to establish a Moon base by 2030.

In this new Moon race one nation, the United States, leads again, but many space players are participating for second prize. Russia, China, Japan, and India are all strong contenders. After the Moon, these nations look ahead to Mars as the next goal.

If European and Japanese manned programs are delayed in their research stage, Iran may overtake them with recent its recent plans to begin its manned program in 2021.

While other nations are small space players, many already intend to join the space club and launch their own satellites independently in the near future.

Commercial space race

Another kind of space race may differ in nature from the original Soviet-American competition, as it could occur between commercial space enterprises. Early efforts in what is commonly referred to as space tourism, to run the first commercial trips into orbit, culminated on April 28, 2001 when American Dennis Tito became the first fee-paying space tourist when he visited the International Space Station on board Russia's Soyuz TM-32. The Ansari X Prize, a competition for private suborbital spaceships, has also evoked the prospect of a new space race by private companies. In late 2004, British aviator-financier Richard Branson announced the launch of Virgin Galactic, a company which will use SpaceShipTwo technology to bring paying customers into sub-orbit, with hopes of launching its first flights by the end of 2010.

See also


  1. ^ "Will Current Policies and Capabilities Allow the United States to Control Space?", p.2. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Yowell, US Army National Guard. Published 2005, U.S. Army War College, Pennsylvania.
  2. ^ "Space Race", Fetched 9 February 2010.
  3. ^ "Sputnik and The Dawn of the Space Age". NASA. 
  4. ^ Both Sides of the “Moon”, an October 12, 1957 leader from The Economist
  5. ^ Dow, Peter. "Sputnik Revisited: Historical Perspectives on Science Reform". symposium hosted by the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education. Retrieved 2007-03-20. 
  6. ^ (Russian)
  7. ^ a b Peter Bond, Obituary: Lt-Gen Kerim Kerimov, The Independent, 7 April 2003
  8. ^
  9. ^ A Historic Meeting on Human Spaceflight,, November 20, 1962. (Excerpt from page 17 of .pdf transcript.)
  10. ^ "THE WORLD'S FIRST SPACE RENDEZVOUS". Apollo to the Moon; To Reach the Moon — Early Human Spaceflight. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  11. ^ Betty Blair (1995), "Behind Soviet Aeronauts", Azerbaijan International 3 (3).
  12. ^ Oberg, James, in Final Frontier, as reprinted in The New Book of Popular Science Annual, 1992
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Report: China’s Military Space Power Growing" by Leonard David,, June 5, 2006, Accessed June 8, 2006.
  15. ^,0015002100000000.htm


  • An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, Robert Dallek (2003). ISBN 0-316-17238-3
  • Arrows to the Moon: Avro's Engineers and the Space Race , Chris Gainor (2001). ISBN 1-896522-83-1
  • Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon, Colin Burgess, Kate Doolan, Bert Vis (2003). ISBN 0-8032-6212-4
  • Light This Candle : The Life & Times of Alan Shepard—America's First Spaceman, Neal Thompson (2004). ISBN 0-609-61001-5
  • The New Columbia Encyclopedia, Col. Univ.Press (1975).
  • The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (pbk ed. 2001). ISBN 0-553-38135-0 ISBN 0-613-91667-0
  • Russia in Space: The Failed Frontier?, Brian Harvey (2001). ISBN 1-85233-203-4
  • The Soviet Space Race With Apollo, Asif A. Siddiqi (2003). ISBN 0-8130-2628-8
  • Soyuz: A Universal Spacecraft, Rex Hall, David J. Shayler (2003). ISBN 1-85233-657-9
  • Space for Women: A History of Women With the Right Stuff, Pamela Freni (2002). ISBN 1-931643-12-1
  • Space Exploration, Carole Scott, Eyewitness Books, 1997
  • Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge, Asif A. Siddiqi (2003). ISBN 0-8130-2627-X
  • Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles, Roger E. Bilstein (2003). ISBN 0-8130-2691-1
  • Yeager: An Autobiography, Chuck Yeager (1986). ISBN 0-553-25674-2

External links

This audio file was created from a revision dated 2005-07-02, and does not reflect subsequent edits to the article. (Audio help)
More spoken articles


Other websites:


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

< Modern History | Space Exploration
Mercury Capsule.jpg
The Mercury Capsule


Sputnik Flies

The Men

Werner Von Braun (rightmost)

Werner Von Braun

German scientist and creator of the German V-2 rocket which devastated London during WWII. He would prove instrumental in the design and creation of technology for the space program.

Yuri Gagarin

Russian cosmonaut; first man in space.

Vladimir Komarov

Russian Cosmonaut; First man to die in space. After a short period in space upon re-entry the parachutes on his spacecraft failed to open to slow the vehicle descent. Russian spacecraft of the era landed on earth rather than in the ocean as did the United States' spacecraft 'splashdown'. The parachutes of Cosmonaut Komarov's craft were burnt off during re-entry and this was noticed by observers in the upper part of the atmosphere. Communication with the spacecraft was established soon after re-entry and Cosomonaut Komarov was informed of the development and appraised that nothing could be done. There was time to inform his wife and have her present in the control room for the final moments. This man has been called a hero.

Alan Shepard

American astronaut; first American in space. Would later walk on the moon on Apollo 14 after battling an inner ear disease.

Neil Armstrong

American astronaut; first man to walk on the moon.

Jim Lovell

American astronaut; commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

The Machines


Mercury Missions


A two man space craft that was instrumental in developing docking and EVA techniques. Gemini hardware was used to perform the first manned-unmanned docking in space.

Gemini Missions


A three man space craft consisting of a service module, which contained the engines and most of the flight hardware, and the command module, which was the portion of the spacecraft that would return to Earth.

Apollo 11 carried the Lunar Module to the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, where it touched down for the first manned lunar landing. Apollo would serve as the primary NASA spacecraft until it was replaced by the Space Shuttle Transportion System (STS).

Apollo Missions

Lunar Module

A spider-like spacecraft composed of a descent stage, which carried the descent and ascent stages to the surface of the moon, and an ascent stage, which used the descent stage as a launchpad to return to the Apollo command module in lunar orbit.

The lunar module was stored in the uppermost stage of the Saturn V rocket, until it was retrieved by the Apollo spacecraft through a docking maneuver.

The Legacy

Simple English

lunar rover built by the Soviet Union. Lunokhod was the first moving remote-controlled robot to land on another world.]]

The Space Race was a competition of space exploration between the Soviet Union and the United States, which lasted from 1957 to 1975. It had to do with the efforts to explore outer space with artificial satellites, to send humans into space, and to land them on the Moon.

The Space Race began after the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957. The term "Space Race" started as a comparison to the arms race. The Space Race became an important part of the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Space technology became an extra important area in this rivalry, because of possible military uses.

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address