What Was the Space Race? Origins, events and timeline


The space race was a series of competitive technology demonstrations between the United States and the Soviet Union, aiming to show superiority in spaceflight. It was an outgrowth of the mid-20th-century Cold War, a tense global conflict that pitted the ideologies of capitalism and communism against one another, according to an online exhibit from the National Air and Space Museum (opens in new tab)

From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, the two superpowers were embroiled in a bitter competition over who could ‘conquer’ outer space first. Beginning with the launch of the first satellite and culminating with a joint mission between the two superpowers, the space race was a unique period in space exploration.

How the space race began

A technician working on the Soviet satellite, the first manmade object to orbit the earth

A technician working on the Soviet satellite, the first manmade object to orbit the earth (Image credit: Getty: Sovfoto / Contributor)

Following the end of the Second World War, a bitter ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the Cold War (opens in new tab), began. The Cold War had many battlefields, from the United States intervention in Vietnam to the nuclear arms race. Another area of conflict was the battle to ‘conquer’ the exploration of space first. The first aim in this “space race” was the launching of an unmanned object, a satellite, which could successfully orbit the earth.



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