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The Space Race, Space Missions & Technologies – Part 1

What were the causes that resulted in the space race? In these articles Parts 1 & 2, we will go through the history of the space race, and what technologies came as a result. 

The main reasons are below.

  • The US-Soviet Cold War. 
  • Operation Paperclip
  • Growing threat of nuclear weapons. 
  • Wide-Ranging Espionage. 
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis. 




The US-Soviet Cold War

After world war 2 ended, a new conflict began. It was known as the Cold War. I like to think it is called the cold War because they kept it cool and just spied on each other. There was no war were people died but it pitted two huge world powers against each other- Capitalist United states and communist Soviet Union, causing mass tension. Beginning in the 1950’s, space would become the ideal arena for rivalry between the world superpowers, as each side sought to prove the superiority in their own technology and military firepower.

Illustration of what the cold war was. In the picture above, a US plan monitors a Soviet Freighter




Operation Paperclip

Operation Paperclip was the US intelligence plan to gain as much Nazi espionage intelligence they could before the Soviets.  Many now ex-Nazis with no fuhrer to guide them, ran into the arms of the waiting US and Soviet soldiers on each side of the Berlin wall. They were interviewed and spilled all their information for a chance to be incorporated into the US military intelligence and in some cases, get to stay living in their own home in Germany to spy on the USSR. There is hate towards the
US government because of the cruel torture of people that these ‘ex-Nazis’ used for experiments. So have you ever wondered how we know at what pressure a human will implode at, because the Nazis done their experiments and during operation Paperclip the US government paid these Nazis in a get-out-of-jail free card in exchange for their information. But the Russians were jealous because it seemed like the Americans had gotten more Nazis than them, which caused major tension but was also the main reason why America won the space race.

Above photo is a briefing of missile test at Cape Canaveral attended by NASA scientists and the then US president John F Kennedy




The Cuban Missile Crisis 

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a tense  13-day political and military standoff over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. Following this news, many people feared the world was on the brink of nuclear war. However, disaster was avoided when the U.S. agreed to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s (1894-1971) offer to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. promising not to invade Cuba. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey. This exacerbated the cold war and caused even more tension to beat each other to the moon.

The United Nations debate the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962



The Space Race 

In April 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit earth, traveling in the capsule-like spacecraft Vostok 1.  For the U.S. effort to send a man into space, dubbed Project Mercury, NASA engineers designed a smaller, cone shaped capsule far lighter than Vostok; they tested the craft with chimpanzees, and held a final test flight in March 1961 before the Soviets. On May 5, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space (though not in orbit). Later that May, President John F. Kennedy made the bold, public claim that the U.S. would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. From 1961 to 1964, NASA’s budget was increased almost 500 %, and the lunar landing program eventually involved some 34,000 NASA employees and 375,000 employees of industrial and university contractors. Apollo suffered a setback in January 1967, when three astronauts were killed after their spacecraft caught fire during a launch simulation. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union’s lunar landing program proceeded tentatively, partly due to internal debate over its necessity and to the untimely death (in January 1966) of Sergey Korolyov, chief engineer of the Soviet space program. December 1968 saw the launch of Apollo 8, the first manned space mission to orbit the moon, from NASA’s massive launch facility on Merritt Island, near Cape Canaveral, Florida. On July 16, 1969, U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins set off on the Apollo 11 space mission, the first lunar landing attempt. After landing successfully on July 20, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon’s surface; he famously called the moment “one small step for man, one giant  leap for mankind”, and at that moment the Americans had won the space race.

The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong touching down on the moon to win the space race for the USA 


For further fun reading please check out – deck space flight


Kids Fun Facts Corner

# 1. The cold war lasted for 45 years. 

# 2. Operation Paperclip used to be called Operation Overcast before the name of the operation was changed. 

# 3. The Cuban missile crisis lasted for a tension filled 13 days.

# 4. The space race came out of the tensions of the cold war between the US & the USSR.

# 5. The USSR won the battle of the space race by bring the first country to get to space, however the US eventually won the war as they were the first country to get to the moon.   


Q&A Corner

Q. How long did the cold war last for?

Q. What was operation paperclip once called?

Q. How long did the Cuban missile crisis last for?

Q. What country eventually won the space race?

Q. How was the first man on the moon?


Download questions about the Space Race here: Space Race (answers are on this page)

Teachers. For more in depth work sheets on the Space Race. Click on Kidskonnect Worksheets

This article was written by Sam O Neill @

For the 2nd part of this articles visit the link below. 


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