The impact of space race on the societys of USA and USSR Essay

The impact of space race on the societys of usa and ussr


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The first satellite which was made by the USSR was launched in 1957 on 4th October and was known as Sputnik. Its weight was around 184 pounds which was slightly bigger than a basketball. No scientific equipments were present in Sputnik but it orbited the earth singularly in 98 minutes (Garber, 2007). It had one radio transmitter and the beeping noise it incessantly produced made it easy for it to be tracked by instruments that were quite primitive. The relevance of Sputnik as a data gathering instrument was insignificant. However, Sputnik ushered in a new era of exploring the space opening a battle ground between the USA and USSR. The space race promoted the creation of space shuttles which were manned and space stations to monitor the progress in space exploration (Divine 1993, p. 35). Space race, as it later came to be known has had various effects on the society.

 The Impact of Space Race on the Society’s of USA and USSR

The USA and USSR were bitter rivals after the Second World War even after they had allied to defeat Germany. This was as a result of their different political ideologies that they wanted to spread in other parts of the world. This war was referred to as the Cold War and it involved a lot of espionage. USSR hoped to win most of the Third World countries and Asia to spread communism and USA wanted to spread capitalism in these countries. Both superpowers financed wars that were proxy in the Third World and Cold War is seen to be major contributor to what was dubbed as the space race.

There was a lot of competition between the two on who would launch the first satellite into the space. USSR had beaten USA by launching the Sputnik in 1957. Although President Eisenhower had confidence that the satellite from America would orbit the space and the program to launch it was running smoothly, the public reacted differently. Reporters had little knowledge on the military satellite and the president’s opponents in the political scene fed the media with lies (Reidy et al, 2006, p. 112).  There was a firestorm that was created by the media and political analysts who insisted that USSR wanted to completely destroy US through bombardment from the space.

Eisenhower was seen as a total failure for making the USSR beat US in the space. The programs that he was developing were seen as inadequate, since operations within the military were epitomized by entry into the space. The three branches within the military of the USA competed to take control of launching a space program which would heal wounds of most Americans. Many suggestions were given for launching proper space satellites.

  Most of those proposals such as space planes which were piloted, troops of combat within the space and satellites would cost an arm and a leg. Eisenhower strongly resisted this move of space military since the cost of launching it was too high. His program restricted space operations to the robotic flights. No one challenged his military prowess since he had successfully led America to defeat Nazi in Germany (Reidy et al., 2006, P. 127).    Those who criticised him did it quietly since Eisenhower had won the admiration of most Americans due WW2 victory.

When a dog known as Layka was launched into the space during the silver jubilee anniversary of the USSR by Korolev, there was a public outcry in US and the media revolted. Reidy et al., (2006, p. 135) argues that critics of Eisenhower had a field day and enormous pressure was put on the President to come up with a proper plan that would see the expansion of American presence in the space.  The failure of American space program was strongly reinforced by the media when a satellite launched on 6th December 1957 failed right in front of their eyes. Lyndon Johnson, a political foe of Eisenhower grabbed the opportunity to build his political career by being very enthusiastic about the cause of space in America. He claimed that the ability of American to control the space was vital and strategic to ensure it emerged triumphant in the era of Cold War. Lyndon stressed that the total failure of America in winning the space race would curtail its supremacy as a super power and this would ensure the domineering of communism in the world.

Eisenhower finally replied to his critics in July 1958 by approving the legislation of an agency that would successfully create a unified space agency (Reidy et al., 2006, p. 130). The control of rocket programs and satellite efforts by civilians in the nation were given to NASA but Central intelligence Agency maintained the intelligence for satellites belonging to the military and the Department of Defence. There was a demand from Eisenhower for a space program which was manned in ensuring that a human was sent to the orbit as soon as possible.

There were school reforms countywide after the launch of Sputnik and the National Defence Education Act was enacted in 1958. Its main aim was to ensure promotion of knowledge in foreign languages, math and science (Divine 1993, p. 37).There was an eligibility of $1000 in colleges and the colleges which availed loans got funding from the government. Grade and high schools were not left behind in the reforms, as the courses were remodelled to improve language, science and math. The teachers also got better education in these three fields and some of them became specialists.

The pop culture took the launch lightly as the Sputnik cocktail was launched by the bartenders. There were Sputnik toys which were made by the toy companies and children bought them massively. Several space fashions came up and there was a depiction of satellites on balloons, t-shirts, shoes and skirts. People totally immersed themselves in searching for the Sputnik during their free times (Divine 1993, p. 38)

Though he disapproved that the space race was of minimal value as it was only a show off of engineering techniques, Eisenhower knew that he would be committing political suicide by not initiating these programs. It was necessary to restore the faith of most Americans who were feeling inferior to the Soviet Union. The mercury project was launched to ensure that the first man was sent to space. According to Reidy et al (2006)    Eisenhower constricted the budget so as to ensure that the scope of this project was limited. Lyndon Johnson took the space war seriously and during his presidential bid, he made an arrangement that increased the spending in all programs that were related to the space.

Richard Nixon who was fronted by Eisenhower received a lot of opposition from John F Kennedy who was the candidate representing the democrats. Kennedy and Lyndon teamed up and swore to restore American glory if they emerged victorious in the elections. They portrayed Nixon as a candidate who would continue with Eisenhower’s failure which would delegate America into oblivion as a super power. They campaigned on a platform that depicted republicans as unwilling and taking the space race as a mundane issue (Reidy et al., 2006, p. 142).

Kennedy won the elections beating Richard Nixon. During the campaign period, he had stressed the importance of sealing the space gap that had been created by the former Republican rule (Abshre 2001, p. 84).The greatest fear that Kennedy dealt with was the impression that was being created by the soviets among undecided countries on whether to support communism or capitalism. There was a perception that USA had bowed out of the space race and Soviet Union was viewed as the super power by most countries of the Third world.

Having secured the position, Kennedy was faced with a hard task of ensuring he fulfilled the promises he had made when campaigning and especially in the area of space. His greatest hurdle was creating a competitive program which could be at par with that of the soviets. Lyndon Johnson, who was his vice president, chaired the National Advisory Space Council (NASC). Kennedy knew he could rely on Johnson who had been instrumental in the creation of NASA (Abshre 2001, p. 85).  James Web, who held influential positions, was very vital and he joined the team to oversee success of the space race. Soviet Union was still ahead of America and before Kennedy’s efforts could bear fruits, the Yuri Gagarin cosmonaut had taken two hours to orbit the earth.

 Kennedy swallowed his pride and congratulated the premier of the Soviet Khrushchev. He redoubled his efforts and vowed to bring back the glory of America by ensuring the space program was successful. According to Abshre (2001, p. 86) there was a promise from President Kennedy to land a man in the moon and he did not specify any particular year in order to gain political leeway. A lot of money was allocated to the budget concerned with space and there was a lot of public outcry for its reduction. There was a popular opinion that the timetable for the space program needed to be adjusted and expanded to reduce the budget.

There was a major complaint from the taxpayers and scientists who complained of negligence of activities that were more vital to the country than space. The republicans acquired a weapon to fight back and claimed a lot of money was being spent on a scientific phantom which would never materialize (Abshre 2001, p. 83). There was a feeling that all that money being pumped into the space programs would have contributed greatly to eradication of poverty and ignorance in the world. Kennedy was very vocal in defending his vision. His tenacity and daring attitude convinced the congress to allocate more money to the space budget. The media supported him tremendously and his popularity skyrocketed. He got a lot of support for engaging political figures like Lyndon who was totally committed to the space race (Abshre 2001, p. 83)

Kennedy fully participated in the war in Vietnam and when he was assassinated, Lyndon succeeded him as the president. By 1967, Lyndon was in a dilemma as he could not support both the war in Vietnam and the space budget without compromising either. The politically suave Lyndon knew that he could not bow out of the Vietnamese war without loosing his face in politics (Wasser, 2005). On the other hand he could not transfer the burden to the taxpayers by raising taxes as this would diminish his popularity.

Lyndon knew that he could never give up his vision of ensuring that America gained superiority in the space race and Surveyor made a soft landing in the moon in 1966 on April 30th. The Soviet Union had beaten US as Luna 9 landed there in the same year in January 31st.  The soviets were in a hurry to launch Luna since the designer of the rocket, Korolev had died on the surgery table during a stomach surgery.

Johnson was in a dilemma since he held the perception that if he reduced spending in the space race and allocated money to Vietnam, the soviets would get to the moon before him and this would be another loss to the American supremacy (Wasser, 2005). What Lyndon didn’t know is that Korolev’s death had left a big gap in the soviet and their hopes of making it to the moon had diminished considerably. Johnson negotiated a deal with the soviets that ensured that nuclear weapons were not to be kept in space and none of the two countries could make a claim of owning the moon even if they landed there first. The soviets gladly accepted to sign the mutual agreement and this greatly surprised Lyndon.  This move helped him in allocating more money to the Vietnam War by reducing the money spent on the space program (Wasser, 2005).

The Apollo program which was designed to make the American dream of reaching the moon a reality came true when on July 20th 1969, Apollo 11 made its landing on the moon.  America had triumphed over their soviet enemies in the moon as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. President Richard Nixon lived to see the dream that John F Kennedy had created some few years before he was assassinated (Wasser, 2005). The pinnacle and epitome of the space race was marked by the whole world and American supremacy in the space was restored. Moscow received the news solemnly and there were congratulatory messages outpouring from all over the world.

Americans, who had heavily invested in this program, lowered the budget of the space programs since their vision had been fulfilled. USSR might have had the first laugh through Sputnik but America had the last laugh through Apollo. In the Soviet Union, the exploration of space held more significance than the influence it had on the politics of Cold War and military supremacy (Dick 2006, p. 29). The whole world admired the Soviet Union for its technological superiority and imagination after launching the Sputnik. It was not only viewed like a breakthrough in technology but as an impact whose effect was left in the lives of many soviets. There was a great interdependence between Lebenswelten (human beings day to day life), politics and space in the Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. There was a great interest raised in researching this young field and many scientists engaged in it to discover more things.

The media went berserk when Sputnik was launched in 1957 and the government in the soviet made political mileage out of this attention. They saw a lot of potential in using this to ensure they gained political dominance over their ancient enemy USA. This raised their confidence in spreading communism in the Third World countries and eventually beating USA to become the superpower. When the first space flight by the name Yuri Gagarin was manned into space in 1961, there was overwhelming euphoria in the Soviet Union. So far, their greatest rival USA had not launched any satellite into the space. The soviets were ecstatic as this was their second launch and a dog named Layka had participated in the launch (Dick 2006, p. 32).

The Kosmos became integrated into the daily lives of the society in the Soviet Union. Almost all the children in the soviet could recite the names of the cosmonauts that were being launched then. They were actively involved in the lives of these cosmonauts and keenly followed the achievements associated with them. The society in the soviet had adopted the socialist ideology and this imagery from the space gave them a tool for spreading propaganda which was common during Cold War times. Launching of Gagarin and Sputnik epitomized the supremacy of USSR against US which was vital in ensuring the cohesiveness in the Eastern Europe block which supported communism (Dick, 2006).

The standards of living were generally low in the soviet and there was pressure from the western allies during the exchange of culture for an improvement. There was a promise by the government to deliver more goods for consumption. However, citizens had a lot of pride in their country although they were going through hard economic times. The outer space achievement by the soviets was symbolical as socialism was re- launched since the times of Stalin.

The travel to space gained so much popularity and was used in competition of cultures of consumers and modernity. The euphoria lasted in the first years since the soviets felt they were close to winning the war in supremacy over USA. Conversely, the life the soviets experienced in the world got worse and dimmer and they were no longer fascinated with the space. Their interest faded and when Korolev died in 1968, they lost it completely. Neil Armstrong from America, who was the first to walk in the moon in 1969, killed whatever little interest that was left in the soviet society (Scheide et al, 2008).

They felt that their government had forsaken their standards of living in a show off battle of superiority, yet the Americans still had the last laugh. After 1969, space rockets were launched and landed in the space constantly. The society in the soviet no longer showed interest in remembering the cosmonauts and the scientists who created them. For them, the battle was lost when Americans beat them to the moon (Dick, 2006). Their living conditions were deplorable as most of the money had been allocated to the space race. There was a lot bureaucracy involved in the creation of agencies that concentrated on travel to the space. Huge expenditures were incurred in the Soviet Union in a bid to make this race successful. These programs needed specific industrial and scientific requirements and thus a single agency had to be created to deal with all these. Khrushchev allocated a lot of money to these programs and this resulted to the difficult that was experienced economically by people in 1962 (Scheide et al, 2008). There were many workers strikes in the soviet although this did not deter the government from spending more money on the program.

The government main aim was to emerge winners in the Cold War and the space race was one of the many ways the Soviets used in a bid to surpass America. The desires of the soviets to not only control the earth but the entire universe, made the government not to spare any cent in ensuring this mission was accomplished. The sure way to determine the winner and settle the immense rivalry that had been brought about by the Cold War was by gaining control over the outer space and thus ruling the other planets. USSR was obsessed with achieving this and spared no money to ensure they won (Scheide et al, 2008).

In 1989 it was estimated that rubles amounting to 6.9 billion had been allocated to the space program in the Soviet Union that year. This was given as the approximate figure used by the government, although there was a lot of propaganda in the soviet and a high possibility that these figures were inflated. The Soviet Union always wanted to appear financially successful and they perfected the art of using propaganda in inflating their figures to confuse the western in their analysis.

There was a lot of internal rivalry that was experienced by the soviet space programs which were not under one body like NASA in the US (Dick 2006, p.29). In the early 60s, the progression of these programs was superb but due to the lack of a single body, a lot of politics from the scientists derailed the program.

Socialism which encouraged openness in communicating ones ideas, made many of the chief designers to stand firmly on their individual ideas. There were as many as 30 space programs being developed and expected to be launched by the different designers within the Soviet Union. The government depended more on Korolev who was a genius to oversee the development of the satellites that would help them in beating USA in the space war. When Korolev died, the USSR program was less active as the chief coordinator was absent. The internal rivalries that ensued with the death of Korolev saw America winning the space race and USSR struggled to maintain the parity.

 As much as the soviet tried to compete with USA, they were economically disadvantaged despite boasting of controlling the second largest economy worldwide. The advantage that USSR had earlier gained at the start of the space race was lost due to poor organization and shortage of funds (Dick 2006, p. 30). The economic cost which was very high in the USSR coupled with the arms race caused a crisis in the Soviet Union economy. The crisis deepened in the late 70s and 80s and this is one of the major factors that led to the eventual collapse of USSR.

The USA economy was still the largest in the world and they were intelligent enough to reduce their spending in the space programs after they successfully launched Neil Armstrong into the moon in 1969. After loosing the Vietnam War in the 70s, America was more careful in its fight to spread its ideology of capitalism. There was a general feeling that more money should be devoted to the economy rather than settling the apparent rivalry that existed between them and USSR (Garber, 2007). The soviets continued their propaganda war by inflating budgets in a bid to appear economically stable. It was clear they were struggling financially as they could not afford to pay the scientists who were developing these space satellites. The scientists were disgruntled with the deplorable conditions they were living in as the government could no longer maintain their high standards of living due to the shortage of funds. The scientists, who were once patriotic to the soviets, were no longer enthusiastic about the course as they were straining financially. Most of them ended up committing espionage and leaked information to the American intelligence. After the collapse of USSR most of them relocated to America and joined NASA and assisted in developing the USA space programs (Garber, 2007).

America had invested heavily in the space race and the NASA operated on a budget of approximately2.5-5 billion dollars in the sixties. Apollo, which was designed to achieve the dreams of reaching the moon, first, achieved this in 1969. There was a lot of outcry from the American society as more money was being spent on both the space race and the war in Vietnam. People were tired of paying taxes which ended up being channeled in the Cold War. After the launch of Apollo 17 in 1972 by NASA, its budget was cut back and space exploration was on the decline (Garber, 2007). The excitement that was exhibited by the American people in the 1960 dwindled as they held the perception that they had already conquered the space.


The space race was triggered by a show for supremacy between the USA and USSR during the Cold War. These two former allies of he WW2 had developed their nuclear technology after this war. This race intended to bring out the eventual winner who would emerge as the superpower in the globe. This was crucial to the two superpowers who were trying to win the rest of the world to support their different ideologies of capitalism and socialism. This race had major impacts on the social, economic and politics of both USA and USSR. The governments invested heavily on these programs and this led to the collapse of the USSR later on. The space race was just another face in the Cold War where the competing powers aimed at surpassing each other and gaining control of the entire universe.


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