What Was the Space Race?

The term "space race" refers to a rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s, as each side attempted to outdo the other through launching space missions and sending aircraft into the atmosphere. The space race emerged during the late 1950s, serving as an extension of political drama between the two warring nations during the Cold War. The Cold War brought a show of power, as each side flexed its military and political muscles, vying for a top spot in the world's pecking order of nations; this battle for superiority extended into space with the space race.

The Soviet Union successfully launched a spacecraft called Sputnik in 1957. Sputnik, the first artificial satellite in the world, was launched from a large and powerful intercontinental ballistic missile; its launch brought the Soviet Union the fame of launching the first extra-orbital military object into the Earth's atmosphere. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik with some secrecy. At a time when most Americans only dreamed of seeing space exploration in their lifetimes, the Soviets accomplished that first step with one successful launch. A year later, Americans launched their first satellite into space. This satellite also launched successfully, proving the U.S. just as formidable in the space race. The U.S., under the direction of President Dwight Eisenhower, also created a space agency and space programs during that time. The joint technology and political effort gave rise to NASA, which operated alongside several space security programs.