The Space Race between the US and the USSR was a critical moment of the 1950s and 1960s. The Soviets took lead in the competition with the successful launch of Sputnik 1.
Part 1: Sputnik
Sputnik 1 launched from Kazakhstan on October 4, 1957. It was the first ever earth orbiting artificial satellite. This satellite was six times heavier (184 lbs) than the failed attempt of the United States in December 1957. The radio transmission Sputnik emitted was heard by ham radio operators around the world. The simple beeping marked a very important event in history.
Sputnik II launched into orbit a month later, on November 3, 1957. Even heavier, it weighed 1,120 pounds and contained the first living creature, a dog named “Laika”. Sputnik II was revolutionary. It was unlike anything ever seen before. Its design was adapted from Kuchatov’s work on ICBM’s (intercontinental ballistic missiles).
These Soviet achievements garnered immense prestige and attention. Not only were these successes crucial for nationalism and pride but they also marked significant military progress. As the Cold War continued, there began a correlation between the space technology that was sending satellites into orbit and the possibility of launching nuclear weapons onto targets in the United States. Furthermore, it opened the door for interplanetary exploration, showed the USSR to be a powerful nation, and gave the people hope.
The success of Sputnik paved the way for further space exploration.
Part 2: Cosmonaut
Vostok 1 launched on April 12, 1961. The first human in Space, Iurii Gagarin, completed a full orbit around Earth. With this, the Soviets successfully kept their edge in the Space Race, once again beating the US. Gagarin became a symbol for the Soviet People. He was seen and celebrated as a hero. Gagarin’s “Poyekhali!”/”Let’s go” at the moment of launch became a symbol for the start of human space flight.
Gagarin represented the successes of the Soviet’s educational system, leadership, technology, and military.
Amidst all of these space endeavor victories, the US is still considered by most to be the winner of the Space Race by having a man on the moon.
*This post earned a “Student’s Choice” award from the editorial team.