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The Space Race was an informal competition between the United Statesmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker, 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 Chinesemarker 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, Germanmarker scientists began experimenting with rockets powered by liquid propellants that were capable of reaching relatively high altitudes and distances. In 1932, the Reichswehr, predecessor of the Wehrmacht, took an interest in rocketry for long-range artillery (since long-range guns had been prohibited by the Versailles Treaty). Wernher von Braun, an aspiring rocket scientist, joined the effort and developed such weapons for Nazi Germany's use in World War II.

The German A-4 rocket, launched in 1942, became the first such projectile to reach space. In 1943, Germany began production of this weapon, with a range of 300 kilometers (185 mi) and a 1,000 kilogram (2,200 lb) warhead, as Vergeltungswaffe 2 (Vengeance Weapon 2). The Wehrmacht fired thousands of V-2s at Allied cities, causing significant damage and loss of life. However, they also consumed an enormous quantity of resources, very disproportionate to their limited effectiveness.

As World War II drew to a close, U.S., UK, and Soviet military and scientific teams raced to capture technology and trained personnel from the German facility at Peenemündemarker. The United Kingdom and the Soviet Union had some success, but the United States arguably benefited most, taking a large number of German rocket scientists, including von Braun — from Germany to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip. Later they played a decisive role in development of the US space program and became responsible for many US achievements during the first decade of Space Age. Meanwhile American scientists adapted the German rockets for use against hostile nations and other uses. Until 1957 German scientists, including von Braun, used rockets to study high-altitude conditions of temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, cosmic rays, and other topics.

Cold War roots

After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union became involved in a Cold War of espionage and propaganda. The United States Air Force ended World War II with both a large air-refuelable strategic bomber force and advance bases in countries close to Soviet airspace. With no equivalent, the Soviet leadership made development of long range missiles and rockets a higher priority, being a cheaper alternative to countering US bombers. Much of the technological development required for wartime rockets such as Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) applied equally well to rockets made for human space flight. The same rockets that might send a human into orbit or land a payload on the Moon could be used to send an atom bomb to an enemy city.

The US had actually initiated development of ICBM technology as early as 1946, with the MX-774, however, funding was pulled. In the shadow of a powerful bomber force, the investment into unproven intercontinental-range rocket technology was seen as unnecessary and the US fell behind the Soviets. It was not until the 1954 Von Neumann Committee that the US gained resolve to catch up to Soviet ICBM development, out of the urgent realization that uncountered ICBM capability would be psychologically untenable.

Artificial satellites


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. 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. 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 Canaveralmarker. 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 NASAmarker, as well as the National Defense Education Act, the most far-reaching federally-sponsored education initiative in the nation's history. 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. 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.

Satellite communications

The first communications satellite, the American Project SCORE, 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 (Canadamarker)
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 sent into orbit, 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. (Russian)

The American 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.

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

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 America "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." 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 placing 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).

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.

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. After Johnson became President in 1963, his continuing support allowed the program to succeed.

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" , 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 American 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.

While unmanned Soviet probes had reached the Moon before any U.S. craft, American Neil Armstrong became the first person 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:

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

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 American 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.

The 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.

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

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, American 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 Americans 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 (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 Country-Agency Mission Name
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 belts -ABMA Explorer 1
March 17, 1958 First solar powered satellite -NRL Vanguard 1
December 18, 1958 First communications satellite -ABMA Project SCORE
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 -NASAmarker (NRL)1 Vanguard 2
February 28, 1959 First satellite in a Polar orbit -DARPA Discoverer 1
August 7, 1959 First photograph of Earth from orbit -NASAmarker Explorer 6
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 -NASAmarker TIROS-1
July 5, 1960 First reconnaissance satellite -NRL GRAB-1
August 11, 1960 First satellite payload recovered intact from orbit -Air Force Discoverer 13
August 12, 1960 First passive communications satellite -NASAmarker Echo 1A
August 18, 1960 First photo reconnaissance satellite -Air Force KH-1 9009
August 19, 1960 First plants and animals in space to return alive Sputnik 5
1961 First launch from orbit
First mid-course corrections
First spin-stabilisation

Venera 1
April 12, 1961 First manned spaceflight (Yuri Gagarin)
First manned orbital flight
Vostok 1
March 7, 1962 First orbital solar observatory -NASAmarker OSO-1
August 12, 1962 First time that more than one manned spacecraft were in orbit at the same time and established ship-to-ship radio contact. Vostok 3 and Vostok 4
December 14, 1962 First planetary flyby (Venus closest approach 34,773 kilometers) -NASAmarker Mariner 2
June 16, 1963 First woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova) Vostok 6
July 19, 1963 First reusable manned spacecraft (suborbital) -NASAmarker X-15 Flight 90
July 26, 1963 First geosynchronous satellite -NASAmarker Syncom 2
December 5, 1963 First satellite navigation system -Navy NAVSAT
August 19, 1964 First geostationary satellite -NASAmarker Syncom 3
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 (closest approach 9,846 kilometers) -NASAmarker Mariner 4
December 15, 1965 First orbital rendezvous (parallel flight, no docking) -NASAmarker Gemini 6A/Gemini 7
February 3, 1966 First soft landing on another world (the Moon)
First photos from another world
Luna 9
March 1, 1966 First impact into another planet (Venus) Venera 3
March 16, 1966 First orbital rendezvous (docking) -NASAmarker Gemini 8/Agena target vehicle
April 3, 1966 First artificial satellite around another world (the Moon) Luna 10
April 23, 1967 First spaceflight casualty Soyuz 1
October 30, 1967 First unmanned rendezvous with docking Cosmos 186/Cosmos 188
7 December 1968 First orbital ultraviolet observatory -NASAmarker OAO-2
December 21, 1968 First human orbiting of another celestial body (Moon) -NASAmarker Apollo 8
January 16, 1969 First manned docking and exchange of crew Soyuz 4/Soyuz 5
July 21, 1969 First humans on the Moon and first space launch from a celestial body -NASAmarker Apollo 11
November 19, 1969 First rendezvous on the surface of a celestial body -NASAmarker Apollo 12/Surveyor 3
September 24, 1970 First automatic sample return from the Moon Luna 16
November 23, 1970 First lunar rover Lunokhod 1
December 12, 1970 First X-ray orbital observatory -NASAmarker Uhuru
December 15, 1970 First soft landing on another planet (Venus)
First signals from another planet
Venera 7
April 23, 1971 First space station Salyut 1
June, 1971 First Manned orbital observatory Orion 1
November 14, 1971 First orbit around another planet (Mars) -NASAmarker Mariner 9
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 -NASAmarker Pioneer 10
July 15, 1972 First mission to enter the asteroid belt and leave inner solar system -NASAmarker Pioneer 10
15 November 1972 First orbital gamma ray observatory -NASAmarker SAS-2
December 3, 1973 First Jupiter flyby (at 130,000 km) -NASAmarker Pioneer 10
February 5, 1974 Venus flyby at 5768 kilometers, first gravitational assist manoeuvre -NASAmarker Mariner 10
March 29, 1974 First Mercury flyby at 703 kilometers -NASAmarker Mariner 10
July 15, 1975 First multinational manned mission
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 (NASAmarker). 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. [12646]

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. 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.



When the United States' Apollo 15 left the moon, the astronauts left behind a memorial to astronauts from both nations who had perished during the efforts to reach the Moon. 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 11marker 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 in related missions, including four Americans (Ted Freeman, Elliot See, Charlie Bassett, C.C.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' fighter in 1968.

One of the worst disaster in rocketry was the R-16 failuremarker 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.

Another candidate for the title of worst rocketry disaster 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, thus destroying itself and the launch facility. In this disaster no people were killed.

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 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 Agencymarker 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, but these projects were aborted, and Europe did not become the third major space power. Europe has various-aimed satellites, used Spacelab and the manned module aboard US Shuttles, has sent probes to comets and Mars, 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 from 2018, and ESA's further wishes have culminated in an ambitious plan called the Aurora Programme, which intends to send a human mission to Mars sometime after 2030 (a set of various landmark missions to reach this goal are currently under consideration). ESA has a multi-lateral partnership, and it has plans for spacecraft and further missions with foreign participation and co-funding.

United Statesmarker exploites for ISS and other goals the high-cost Shuttle system (that will be finished at 2011) and fulfils other space exploration, including wide participation in ISS with few own modules and Shuttle support missions, set of unmanned Mars probes, military satellites, etc. Started by President George W. Bush's in 2004, US is now under the real Constellation space program with scheduled to launch since 2018 multi-function Orion spacecraft and subsequent return to the Moon by 2020 and manned flights to Mars later.

Successor of Soviet Union, having former high potential but smaller funding, Russiamarker has some own space programs (including military), offers the wide commercial launch service, continues to support of ISS with few own modules and manned and cargo spacecrafts (and will make this after US Shuttle program will be closed), develops the new multi-function PPTS manned spacecraft for 2018 and has plans to manned moon missions also.

That is to say that three old space players have similar programs of new manned spacecrafts, all for 2018 and with no shuttle systems foreseen.

Other nations most notably capable of increasing competition in space exploration are Japan, China, India, main players in Asian space race.

Although Chinamarker's funding is not in the same league with ESA or NASA, the successful manned space flights (since 2003), the possessing of various-aimed satellites, the wide commercial launch service, and the real plans in the Chinese space program for an own space station and unmanned probes to Mars in near future and shuttle, manned missions to Moon and lunar base in perspective makes the People's Republic of Chinamarker as the third space power. The United States military is evidently keeping a close watch on China's space aspirations, with the Pentagonmarker releasing a report in 2006 detailing concerns about China's growing space power, including military goals. In early 2007 China launched a ballistic missile to destroy a satellite, frustrating international observers as this had violated a consensus not to attempt such maneuvers in space that have military undertones. This was some token that the space race had not really ever ended and actually had only expanded.

In a counterpart to China, Indiamarker also has active own space programs and a some commercial launch service. India's national space agency, ISRO, successfully launched first unmanned lunar mission (Chandrayaan-1, on October 22, 2008). India also has plans for an unmanned mission to the Moon, Mars in 2012, for small shuttle systems and intends to be the fourth space power with the independent manned space flights since 2015 and the manned moon missions after 2025-2030..

Japanmarker is the third main Asian space player, but does not have a commercial launch service. The Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, participates in ISS (having own module and unmanned cargo spacecraft HTV), has launched Mars fly-by probe (firstly after USSR and USA) and Moon probe (SELENE is touted as the most sophisticated lunar exploration mission in the post-Apollo Era). Japan has developed during several years its own manned shuttles HOPE-X, Kankoh-maru and Fuji manned capsule spacecraft but they were not released. Now Japan intends to have new manned spacecraft to 2025 as well as manned moon missions and moon base after 2030.

Thus, in new Moon race one nation, United States now is leading again, but many space players are participating for second prize - Russia, China, Japan, India. Mars is considered the next goal by USA and Europe.

If European and Japanese manned programs are delayed on research stage, the next (after India) country capable for independent manned spaceflight possible space power would be Iranmarker, which starts own manned program aiming by 2021.

Some other nations are small space players already or intends to join the space club (able to launch satellites independently) in near or far 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-32marker. 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 SpaceShipOne technology, with hopes of launching sub-orbital flights by 2008.

See also


  1. Both Sides of the “Moon”, an October 12, 1957 leader from The Economist
  2. Peter Bond, Obituary: Lt-Gen Kerim Kerimov, The Independent, 7 April 2003
  4. A Historic Meeting on Human Spaceflight,, November 20, 1962. (Excerpt from page 17 of .pdf transcript.)
  5. Betty Blair (1995), "Behind Soviet Aeronauts", Azerbaijan International 3 (3).
  6. Oberg, James, in Final Frontier, as reprinted in The New Book of Popular Science Annual, 1992
  8. "Report: China’s Military Space Power Growing" by Leonard David,, June 5, 2006, Accessed June 8, 2006.


  • 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
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  • 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

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