The Soviet Union and the United States fought together as allies during World
War II and their victory over the Axis left them as the two major world powers. The two
powers, however, greatly disagreed over the reformation of post-war Europe. The
disagreement led to communist Russia occupying Eastern Europe, while the United
States remained in Western Europe. The clashes between the communist and capitalist
super powers drove the two countries into the Cold War. With the introduction of
weapons of mass destruction into world politics, extreme tension and animosity arose
between Russia and the United States during the Cold War. Due to many factors,
including the securing of German scientists after World War II, Russia’s science program
was gaining on the U.S.
This fact was little known in America, however, because the
post-war feeling of nationalism left America confident of her standing as the supreme
country in the world. The successful launch of the satellite
I by the Russians, on
October 4, 1957, followed by
II, on November 3, 1957, challenged American
world supremacy. The Russian achievement in space shocked the American public. The
United States had been able to sustain its position as the leader of the free world because
of its economic and military technology.
The U.S. government believed that a Russian
superiority in space would win the admiration of the world, and thereby undermine the
prestige and leadership of the United States. Such superiority might also represent a
direct military threat to U.S. security.
America feared the spread of communism due to a
newfound Russian technological superiority. Consequently, the American government
The Soviet Estimate: U.S. Intelligence Analysis and Russian Military Strength
Walter A. McDougall,
…the Heavens and the Earth
(New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1985), 7.
National Security Council,
U.S. Policy on Outer Space
, NSC 5814, June 20, 1958, in
Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program
, ed. John Logsdon,
(Washington D.C. NASA History Office, 1995), vol.1, 345-346.