targets in the Soviet Union was a long-range project. However, with the development of smaller and more powerful hydrogen bombs, it was clear by
the 1950s that such missiles would make airplanes obsolete as a means of delivering bombs. If the Soviets were to obtain ICBMs first, Americans
would have only a few minutes' warning to get to their fallout shelters
How did the cold war lead to the space race?
the Soviet Union launched a rocket that put the world's first artificial satellite into orbit. "Sputnik 1" was about twice the size of a basketball and
weighed 184 pounds (83.6 kg). It contained scientific instruments and a radio transmitter, which emitted a beep-beep-beep sound that could be
heard around the world. A month later, the Soviets launched a second Sputnik into orbit, twice as heavy as the first. This one carried a passenger: a
dog called Laika.
For Americans, Sputnik carried a grim message. It went far beyond the prestige the Soviets gained in the eyes of smaller nations
that saw it as a communist victory over the West. If they had a rocket that could launch a satellite into orbit, what could stop them from building an
ICBM that could deliver a nuclear bomb?
The United States had also been planning to launch an artificial satellite. Now there was public pressure
to speed up the program. On December 6, a Vanguard rocket carrying America's first satellite was ready to be launched from Cape Canaveral. It
was much smaller than Sputnik 1, but at least it would show the world that the U.S. was still in the fight. Americans watched on live TV as the rocket
was fired—and blew up in a spectacular fireball.
Anyone involved in engineering or aircraft testing understood that the Vanguard explosion meant
nothing. There were always setbacks in developing a new system. They just weren't usually seen on TV, and they weren't perceived as a matter of
It seemed a very small triumph when the U.S. did succeed in launching a satellite a month later. Now the country was in a "
" to match the arms race—and the United States was losing. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man to travel into space in 1961,
and American Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard succeeded in the same task less than a month later.
How did Kennedy handle the Cold War?
Eisenhower started America's space program, but it was his successor, John F. Kennedy, who inspired
Americans to "beat the Russians" in space. Shortly after Kennedy took office, the Soviets embarrassed the Americans again by sending the first
human into space. In fact, two Soviet cosmonauts were launched into orbit around the earth before the first Mercury astronaut, Alan B. Shepherd,
was sent on a 10-minute suborbital flight out of Cape Canaveral.
Kennedy issued a challenge to Americans to close the "space gap." In a speech to
Congress on May 25, 1961, he said,
"I believe that this nation 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."
Much of the nation embraced Kennedy's goal with enthusiasm. On February 20, 1962, John