Space Race: History and Perspectives

Subject: History
Pages: 3
Words: 904
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: Bachelor

The term “Space Race” refers to competition between the US and the USSR during the period of the Cold War for the successful implementation of their space programs. Both adversaries engaged in the Space Race due to several reasons:

  1. Spaceflight achievements could serve as the confirmation of the superiority of one state system over another. For example, the Soviet state’s reputation was considerably elevated with the introduction of the first space satellite (Duiker, 2020). The Soviet Sputnik was a propaganda disaster for the USA because, before its launch, the USA was the first to introduce an atomic bomb and obtained a leading position in rocket development.
  2. Both parties wanted to maintain national security and gain military superiority with the help of spacecraft and satellites. For instance, for the administration of President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), considering the USSR as an “evil empire”, space was the place for possible implementation of the “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative with the creation of a special space shield (Duiker, 2020). According to Lai (2021), satellites presented an exceptional threat to national security because of their ability to disclose the location of military assets. After the USSR rejected Eisenhower’s “Open Skies” policy, the USA considered satellites as means to gather intelligence that could not be intercepted and provide a constant stream of data.

NASA was established in 1958 to create a consistent space program. The space program is still relevant: nowadays, people successfully utilize technical achievements both for peaceful and military purposes. Rocket technology advancements include separating rockets into stages, interception, and missile guidance technology (Johnson, 2018). Satellite technology developed from simple satellites with a radio and a power source to great constellations with solar panels and complex payloads. In addition, computers also experienced advancements in capabilities and power due to their use in space missions (Johnson, 2018). Space systems are used for essential support for warfare, but their activities also include disaster response, verifying evidence of mass violations of human rights such as war crimes, refugees’ tracking, and monitoring of climate changes (Steer, 2018). Even though competing countries developed their space programs majorly to gain military superiority, many warfare technologies were adjusted for peaceful uses.

Scientists from all over the world recognize the space program’s benefits. The International Geophysical Year demonstrated that all nations were interested in peaceful scientific investigations of space that may lead to achievements in the fields of meteorology, communications, and transportation (Lai, 2021). Today, many projects are designed to spread the Internet via space communication technologies. Observation and monitoring satellites provide the data about environmental changes contributing to resource management, economic planning, and environmental policy (Jakhu & Pelton, 2017). The benefits from the Global Navigation Satellite System are hard to calculate as it is used in a great variety of industries.

Since the beginning of the Space Age, the USA has had many benefits from space exploration and the development of space technologies. For example, the USA was a leader in the communication satellites sphere: by 1962, it had launched the first relay satellites with television and telephone transmissions throughout the North and South Americas and European continent (Lai, 2021). Further, outstanding capabilities in navigation were announced by the Global Positioning System’s (GPS) introduction (Moltz, 2019). The US national economy still gains benefits from its space technologies sector. Affordable commercial satellites are involved in providing intelligence data to the government. The USA is a leader of many military space alliances and gains financial contributions for security services. Nowadays, the USA is experiencing growth in the commercial space sector with a wide range of start-ups developing low-cost services dealing with satellite tracking, space manufacturing, Earth observation, and space launch (Moltz, 2019). Entrepreneurs engage in their own Space Races to be dominant in space tourism.

Space exploration is worth its cost because people’s knowledge about the Earth and space expanded considerably due to the space program. From orbit, people can observe global weather patterns, study the formation of hurricanes, measure the locations of continents and movements of tectonic plates, monitor changes in the magnetic field (Lai, 2021). The Space Race also contributed to the development of new disciplines – space physics or heliophysics, studying the influence of the Sun and the interplanetary environment, and astrobiology, studying the living organisms in the universe (Neufeld, 2018). New space telescopes transformed astrophysics and astronomy studies. Space missions to the Moon, Venus, Mars, and other planets of the solar system brought valuable data exploring the probability of life, location of possibly useful minerals, and expanding knowledge about space.

Space exploration is mostly considered the domain of the world’s leading nations because it is an expensive and difficult undertaking involving specialists from various spheres of science. After World War II, a new scientific model was introduced: complex and costly facilities sponsored by governments and military corporations. According to Duiker (2020), after the war, the USA became one of the world’s leading nations and experienced a period of prosperity. Such beneficial conditions enabled the USA to support such large-scale projects. However, outer space was established as a sphere of collective interest. In fact, many countries signed space treaties even without having their own space capabilities, and both the USA and the USSR shared constellations and engaged in other cooperation with their allies (Steer, 2018). Nowadays, the number of space nations is growing: European Union, India, China, Iran, South Korea, Israel, and Japan are also demonstrating their achievements in the space industry.


Duiker, W. J. (2020). Contemporary world history (7th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Jakhu, R. S. & Pelton, J. N. (eds.) (2017). Global space governance: An international study. Springer.

Johnson, J. (2018). Sputnik and the Space Race. Cavendish Square.

Lai, A. K. (2021). The Cold War, the Space Race, and the Law of Outer Space: Space for peace. Routledge.

Moltz, J. C. (2019). The changing dynamics of twenty-first-century space power. Journal of Strategic Security, 12(1), 15-43. Web.

Neufeld, M. J. (2018). Spaceflight: A concise history. The MIT Press.

Steer, C. (2018). Global commons, cosmic commons: Implications of military and security uses of outer space. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 18(1), 9-16. Web.