50 Years On, A Race to the moon that would push both USSR and US until now for technological gains along with best wishes to India’s Chandrayaan 2


The period of great hostility between USA and the former Soviet Union post World War II in 1945 till Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1991, is referred to as the Cold War.

Why would such a heated war be called a cold one? Well, it is because neither of these powers ever locked horns one on one.

The Korean Peninsula War in the 1950s, Vietnam War in the 1960s, Falling of Berlin Wall, Cuban Missile Crisis and Soviet War in Afghanistan, all marked significant geo-political gains for both the United States and Soviet Union.

The only field that had these two countries pushing each other for the good of humanity was technology.

The technological development race in both the USSR and the United States pushed their scientists, astraunauts, and on a larger scale, political leaders to score a plus one over each other.

While many were vary of going into space and wanted to focus on creating strategic Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), then Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev and the then United States President John F. Kennedy were almost certain to send man to the moon by the end of 1960s.

Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev and the then United States President John F. Kennedy were almost certain to send man to the moon by the end of 1960s.

Sputnik 1 and the Launch of the Space Race in 1957

Soviet Union:1- USA: 0, if you were a bookie during the World War and put your money on who would come on top in the Space Race, you would have certainly put all your hens into on the Soviet’s basket.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial earth satellite, Sputnik 1 (Russian for “Fellow Traveller”).

Sputnik 1
The First Ever Space Satellite,Sputnik 1

The satellite was made up of two small aluminium spheres with a diameter of two meters and four external antennas; it emitted small a radio pulse that could have been easily picked up by anyone on radio. The ‘Beep-Beep’ sound of Sputnik became the world’s voice and Soviets were able to get their nose ahead in the race.

The international media covered it extensively and called it a significant step for the Soviets. This also shifted the Cold War balance in favour of the Soviets as new world countries looked for allies.

For the first time America’s marketing proposition of ‘freedom’ was defeated by what America saw as Soviets’ ‘tyranny’. Americans at home questioned the technological, scientific, military, and political standing of their country.

The Kremlin-Soviet Government’s office- gave Sergei Korolev, the Soviet space chief designer, permission to fabricate a simple vehicle to ensure that the U.S.S.R. would be the first country to launch a satellite.

The Americans had targeted a space launch by the end of 1957 or early 1958, Soviets targeted Fall of 1957.

Sputnik 2 closely followed Sputnik 1 next month to commemorate the October revolution, as it also carried first living organism-a dog-named Laika. Sputnik 2 made way for Sputnik 3, a bulky yet efficient satellite.

So far, USSR had three satellites in space while USA was just planning to launch its first satellite, the Vanguard in December 1957.

Pressure mounting on American forced it to prepone the launch date well before it’s initial scheduled date. The publicity that Vanguard developed made it imperative for America to launch Vanguard well before or on the launch date. However, when they failed to do so due to delays, Allen Dulles, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director said that United States had become the ‘laughing-stock of the whole free world.’

The White House accepted the mission called the ‘Explorer’ series from the American Army Orbiter mission, On January 31, 1958, the United States successfully launched the Explorer 1 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Explorer 1, USA’s Entry in the Space

Even though the launch of Explorer 1 was not covered as extensively by the media as its first counterpart, Sputnik 1, many said that world power was again at equilibrium. Soviets did telecast the launch but downplayed the abilities of the satellite.

End of 1950s, USSR:1- USA:1, the world was ready for the next round of a decade long space battle, many guessed who would make it to the moon first but it would take the most powerful people of the world – Khrushchev and Kennedy, who would propel the moon race.

USSR Propoganda
Soviet Propaganda Poster showing growth of countries under the iron curtain

Also, as a direct response to Sputnik, the U.S. Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in July 1958, which led to the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) the following October.

Explorer was the only breakthrough that Americans were scratching their heads for, the United States sent five civilian satellites into orbit and two probes into outer space. A year later, NASA had successfully launched four more satellites and hurled one space probe past the Moon and on to the Sun.

In 1959 NASA also began training seven astronauts and testing Atlas boosters and capsule instruments to prepare for Project Mercury, a human spaceflight program transferred from the Department of Defense to NASA in 1958. Two monkeys, Able and Baker, boarded rockets into space and returned to Earth alive and well. By 1961, the newly established space agency was operating on a budget of $964 million and employed close to 16,000 people at seven centres around the country.


Project Apollo and the Race to the Moon in the 1960s

Along with race to have supremacy on ground, the space race was being fuelled well as well. On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union achieved another important first in the race with the orbital flight of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Like the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, accomplishing the first human spaceflight gave the Soviet Union a major international propaganda victory that challenged America’s techno scientific, military, and political leadership.

Americans wanted to shift the world’s attention from the failed attempt to invade Cuba at Bay of Pigs, the charming face of hope and John F.Kennedy realised Soviet’s dominant role and ask his vice president Lyndon B. Johnson to lead NASA review for a manned mission to the moon.

The demand was made at the address to the Congress, on May 25, 1961, to allow federal budget to fuel the mission to the moon.


Initiating a mobilization of financial and human resources, Project Apollo became the greatest peacetime mission by Congress and, at the time, the most expensive civilian powered technological program in the U.S.

At its peak it took almost four per cent of the federal budget. In September 1963, Kennedy offered the solution of turning Project Apollo into a cooperative program with the Soviet Union. But in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, just two months later, Project Apollo became a memorial to the fallen president and the opportunity for a joint space program collapsed.

His iconic speech “We Choose to go the Moon” became the driving factor of the manned mission to the moon. Till this time, Soviets had sent various observer satellites around the near side and far side of the moon to capture images. Virtually, Soviets were as close as they could be to touch the moon.

Image result for apollo 11
“We Choose to go the Moon”

NASA prepared for the launch of Apollo 11 in July 1969, the mission that would accomplish Kennedy’s dream of landing men on the Moon. It also became an opportunity to completely knock down USSR in world power sharing. US decided to carry their flags, flags of the United Nations and of all the member nations of the UN,

A PR stunt you may call it, but it would echo to the people living under the iron curtain of a free world in the West.

Catch the Landing on The Moon Video Here

Ensuring the World Was on the Moon

US wanted foreign television networks to ensure that live coverage of the lunar landing would reach every TV set. And, in areas where live coverage was not possible, the US shipped television networks copies of TV clips of the major phases of the mission as well as a final wrap-up after re-entry to earth.

The Voice of America broadcast live coverage of the lunar landing in thirty-six languages for an audience of roughly 750 million. With another estimated 650 million watching the lunar landing on television, the first live global broadcast in history.

USA was all guns blazing; it was time to realise the dream of President Kennedy. The Soviets blocked coverage of the Lunar Landing but broadcasted the moon walk thrice.

Many eastern European countries under the influence of the Soviets at the time decided unanimously to telecast the landing, in what many call an important victory for the US.

It has to be mentioned that they call it a step for man and a leap for mankind, it was also the start of what continues till now, the war between two great nations.

And as India embarks on its latest mission to the moon, Chandrayaan 2, we wish ISRO (Indian Space and Research Organisation) and the Government of India all the best for their flight as India makes its mark with these leaders.


With Editing Inputs by Taru Medha








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