Throughout the 1900’s, communism took the world by storm as it spread through Europe and Asia. Karl Marx wrote about the widespread ideology in his greatest work of writing, The Communist Manifesto(1848), and declared that all property in society should be equally owned, and payment would be dealt according to his or her abilities and needs. And so, after the majority of WWI had elapsed, the communistic cancer began spreading throughout the nations of Europe, beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which established the Soviet Union as the primary power of Russia after the destruction of the Tsarist autocracy. Thereafter, the Soviet Union would begin spreading communism throughout the nonaligned nations of Europe following WWII, ultimately leading to the spread of communism in Asia, and more specifically, China, North Korea, and Vietnam. Decades later, the Cold War was an urgent matter, and presidents serving throughout the Cold War such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy(1961-1963)would establish programs and acts that would, in hopes, repel the outbreak of communism. However, with the Soviet Union gaining traction in the race to supremacy as a global power, the presidential efforts would not be enough.
Beginning in 1945, following WWII, the era of Long Peace—an era of long lasting peace between the Soviet Union and the United States(1945-1991)—commenced, but the Soviet Union, along with the United States, began to bolster and progress in their technology concerning nuclear warfare. The uptick in military production would be used for national defense and power, in response to the first successful detonation of an atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico, along with the U.S. nuclear detonation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Similarly, In an effort to surpass the brilliant technological aerospace advances of the Soviet Union during the Space Race in the 1950’s, the United States Congress along with Dwight D. Eisenhower—president at the time(1953-1961)—established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on July 29, 1958. The Cold War brought about nuclear dangers that could have destroyed Russia and America respectively through Mutual Assured Destruction; however, the early years of NASA and the Soviet Union’s aeronautic efforts eclipsed the worrisome tensions of the Cold War, shifting national attention to major technological developments and goals during the Space Race.
To begin, on July 1, 1957, the United States and Russia declared that they would launch satellites in to the Earth’s orbit during the Cold War to study the earth as part of the International Geophysical Year(IGY). The purpose of the IGY can be perfectly illustrated in a National Academy Of Sciences IGY Program report: “To observe geophysical phenomena and to secure data from all parts of the world”. In response to the challenge, the Soviet Union was first to complete the task, as it launched the Sputnik on October 4, 1957: a probe orbiting earth. The probe was originally supposed to launch atop a R-7 ballistic intercontinental missile, containing advanced technology developed by the Soviets. However, to expedite the process of the launch, the probe was launched including only a two way radio, and a thermometer within the casing. The launching of the Sputnik would serve as a major defeat to the United States, as it placed the Soviet Union in the lead during the early days of the Space Race, casting early concerns among the American people.
The launching showcased the Soviet Union and its communistic ties in a global fashion, as it was not expected to advance the boundaries of technology with minimum resources, yet could create and maintain its place in a national technological competition with the United States. Moreover, the Soviet Union’s success showed how far behind the United States technological advances were. Soviet propaganda(image #1, #2, page 10)would spread following successful technological achievements, only fueling the fire of a people primed to become a great social power and pull ahead of the United States, in a power hungry world. However, the launching of Sputnik did create the beginning of a possibility towards peaceful competition, as the Space Race began to form and launch into space during the Cold War. America and Russia would now temporarily shift their primary focus from nuclear missile production to aeronautic advancements regarding outer space.
In response to the Sputnik launching, the United States was determined to take the lead in the Space Race, as it desperately needed to show the world its superiority over the Soviet Union. In order to do so, the United States, with the help of German scientists such as Wernher Von Braun—father of the V-2 rocket(first ballistic missile)—sent its own satellite into orbit: the Explorer 1. The satellite was the first of its kind to carry science instruments, and would round the earth every 114 minutes. However, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was only able to send the satellite into the earth’s orbit after multiple failed attempts by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Moreover, it is extremely important to note that although the successful launch of Explorer 1 brought the United States closer to the technological position of the Soviet Union in the race to space, the United States would still be considered a national laughing stock due to their technological defeat, after the Vanguard TV3, carrying the initial American satellite, had exploded on live television in front of millions across the nation.
The failed launch claimed newspaper headlines like “kaplutnik”, as the United States struggled to keep up with Soviet achievements. However, the Vanguard TV3 disaster showcased an important component of the aeronautic distraction taking place within American society. With the common American’s attention glued to the television screen, the American people experienced the Space Race, along with the actual impactful contributors themselves, including scientists and astronauts. The television served as a temporary distraction to the worrisome dangers of the Cold War and its destructive implications, as TV stations broadcasted launch events and technological aeronautic achievements.
To add upon the television’s impact, Journalists such as Walter Cronkite took the American people inside the inner workings of the Space Race within the 15-minute nightly televised broadcasts on CBS. He chronicled the lone American aeronautic space program: NASA. The program would be directly focused on competing with the aerospace and technological advances of the Soviet Union in its successful launch of Sputnik 1, and Sputnik 2, which would be extremely important to later manned launchings, due to the Soviet Union’s successful mission in carrying the first animal in to space(canine). Furthermore, as stated in the 443rd meeting of the National Security Council, “Gates believed it was essential to separate space activities from military requirements in talking to the public about missile programs. The President noted that such a separation was one of the reasons for creating NASA. Secretary Gates believed the public was somewhat fearful of lunar probes”. The excerpt maintains the idea that the American people were frightened by the quickly advancing Soviet Union’s technological capabilities; however, with the aid of the NASA program and televised programming, the American people could stay informed and confident in its country’s ability to overcome opposing powers.
In relation, Many of the technological components of rocketry used by the U.S. military was converted for use by NASA, including the Redstone and Atlas rockets, which shows an important parallel to the shift from military efforts into the scientific era of the Cold War. Also, with the television broadcastings focused on NASA, the country became unified through a small black and white screen, as the only matter to discuss or think about seemingly became that which concerned the Space Race. While having a conversation regarding the Space Race with Ray DeSabato—An ordinary 16 year-old man at the time of the Space Race—he mentioned a crucial focal point regarding the cultural aspect of the Cold War in which television spread throughout the nation. Every time a televised program aired concerting the Space Race, it was “a major television event” for everyone throughout the country. As the Space Race would soon heat up, astronauts would specifically play a large role in creating a sense of superiority and heroism amongst the American people as they shined behind the television screen of every American.
To expand upon the astronauts key role in the Space Race, the 1960’s brought about a new meaning to the Space Race, as both the United States and the Soviet Union would strive to launch mankind into space itself. This would prove to be a complex task for both nations as launching mankind into space had an unknown scientific outcome, and until 1961, the world did not believe in such a feat. However, in the early 1960’s 4.5% of the United States federal budget was allocated to NASA in hopes that the program would successfully make America a strong political power in the Cold War era. This showed how far the United States was willing to go to ensure that it maintained its place in the Space Race, opposed to the Soviet Union. Despite these efforts, on April. 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin launched in to space aboard the Vostok 1 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, to became the first man to enter space. The achievement gave the Soviet Union the upper hand in the Space Race yet again, as the men charged with uniting the American people could not reach the edge of the Earths atmosphere quick enough.
However, on April 12, 1961, following a similar national pattern, the United States again responded after an amazing Soviet feat. With the introduction of Project Mercury,—space program sending 7 men into space—established in 1958, the United States was able to send its first man into space, Alan Shepard, aboard the Freedom 7 Spacecraft, with great help coming from many across the the country. As stated by Walter C. Williams— Deputy Director for Mission Requirements and Flight Operations—regarding Project Mercury, “The United States’ first manned space flight project was successfully accomplished in a 4 2/3 year period of dynamic activity which saw more than 2,000,000 people from many major government agencies and much of the aerospace industry combine their skills, initiative, and experience into a national effort”. Williams brings a crucial point in showing just how large the group working towards the successful launch of an American into space was. Moreover, $277,000,000 were poured into the project in 1965 USD, establishing the project as a top priority among the federal government. The United States felt that it was extremely important to put all national attention into keeping up with the Soviet Union, and in order to do so, the United States invested monetarily and compiled a group of people from different sectors of the country to complete the mission.
While completing a suborbital flight gave NASA crucial data on the effects of space on the human body and revealed how to successfully orbit an astronaut around the earth, the United States wanted to ultimately proclaim supremacy over the Soviet Union. In order to do so, on September 12, 1962, John F. Kennedy made the bold yet crucial statement in stating that “we(the United States)choose to go to the Moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. This statement showed the world that national supremacy was to be granted to the United States in return for hard work and scientific advancements. Although the Soviet Union successfully attempted to send a man to the Moon, headed by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, too much competition between communist scientists and poor infrastructure would not allow him to build the large F1 engines needed to bring an astronaut to the Moon. This would become the turning point in the Space Race, as the United States would send a man to the Moon rather than another unmanned probe (the Luna 2),and receive high national recognition, like that stated by John F. Kennedy, “No single space project will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long range exploration of space”.
The decision to go to the Moon before the end of the decade(1960’s)would soon became a reality after major accomplishments and programs were established, like the successful manned orbit of earth, and the Lunar landing Program—Project Apollo(1960-1969)—established within NASA by Hugh L. Dryden(NASA Deputy Administrator). Additionally, with the new Moon landing approach, Lunar Orbit Rendezvous(LOR), established as the official protocol for the hypothetical moon landing, the United States would add another key component to the efforts in successfully landing on the Moon. The flight mode, LOR, would take the 3-piece spacecraft into the Moon’s orbit while the lunar module detached and descended to the Moon’s surface.
Finally, after 10 Apollo missions either failed or worked as trial missions for the ultimate goal of reaching the Moon, Apollo 11 orbited around the earth and successfully touched down on the Moon by way of the lunar module. Neil Armstrong would become the first man to walk on the Moon, and thereby end the extremely competitive Space Race. In a New York Times article published a day after the landing, Richard Nixon(1969-1974) was quoted as saying, “For one priceless moment in the whole history of man all the people on this earth are truly one–one in their pride in what you have done and one in our prayers that you will return safely to earth.”(Richard Nixon)”. Besides for the article’s description of the Apollo 11 landing, Nixon’s quote truly sums up the American aeronautic accomplishment, as well as the Space Race itself. He claims that for one moment, peace had been brought to the world due to the astonishing accomplishment. Whether an American or a Soviet, the world was able to appreciate the Moon landing as a great feat for all mankind, while putting war and conflict aside.
To sum up the crucial shift from a national military effort to the scientific race of superiority during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union clashed throughout the mid and late 1900’s in hopes of either establishing communism or controlling the threat to a global democracy. However, it is important to realize that while much of the Cold War was clouded by nuclear worries and national destructive tensions, the Space Race served to eclipse the legitimate concerns of war between both nations, as they shifted their focus on to a mindset of peaceful competition. In such a manner, the United States and the Soviet Union would fight by way of competition behind the television screen as they raced in to Earth’s orbit and on to the Moon. The Space Race would serve as a reminder that nuclear weaponry would not have a competitive place on Earth, to be used in achieving a manor of superiority, and that the world had temporarily moved away from its worrisome dangers and in to a more scientific and peacefully curious era.
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