the space race: this page has links to the cold war US-USSR rivalry in space, part 2: the us response and the moon   

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  on this page
Browse down the page or just click one of these sections.... 

1. Early US space developments, 1945 - Sputnik 
2. The US Response to the Soviets
3. Early Chaos  
Vanguard | Plan B - Explorer | Wernher von Braun
4. The long catch-up
Chimps in Space | Mercury | Gemini | Continued Soviet pressure
5. The final lap: the Moon
Disasters | the Apollo missions | Soviet Lunar missions after Soyuz 1 | Why the USSR lost the Space Race to the Moon 
6. Results & Legacy for the Cold War
The ICBM | Spy & Communications Satellites | Technological innovation beyond weapons | Overall conclusion
7. General Sites on the Space Race
For part 1 of the Space Race go to:
Origins  & Soviet Programme (separate page):
The Nazi Role  | Sputnik | Dogs in Space Early Manned Soviet Space flight

Other core casahistoria Cold War pages:
Origins of the Cold War
Divided Germany, 1945-49
Korean War
Thaw to Cuban Missile Crisis

Vietnam War
Prague'68, Ostpolitik, Detente & China
The End of the Cold War




casahistoria is recommended by many sites including:




1. Early US space developments, 1945 - Sputnik 
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The Origins of the Space Race & the Soviet challenge Go to part 1 of the casahistoria Space Race site for links to the early stages of the cold war competition in space.

This includes links to:
  • Operation Paperclip, the scheme to bring German scientists back to the US
  • Siezure of Garmen V-2 rockets & the White Sands Trials




2. The US Response to the Soviet challenge in Space
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US Reaction to Sputnik I
  • Sputnik and the Origins of the Space Age A basic NASA account of how Sputnik led to the setting up of NASA, 1957-8. By Roger D. Launius who also reveals that the Soviets timed the launch to coincide with a party at the end of an international scientific conference for maximum impact.
  • A Blow to the Nation Detailed & useful item examining the reaction of the US and arguing that National insecurity, wounded national pride, infighting, political grandstanding, clandestine plots, and ruthless media frenzy were but a few of the things the United States had to overcome to bounce back from the blow dealt by SputniK. Excerpted by PBS from the book Sputnik: The Shock of the Century by Paul Dickson
  • David Hoffman shares his Sputnik mania Filmmaker David Hoffman shares footage from his feature-length documentary Sputnik Mania, which shows how the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to both the space race and the arms race -- and jump-started science and math education around the world. The audio commentary is very clear about the impact of Sputnik on the Cold War. For once, the "comment" section is also useful concerning the impact on people at the time.
  • Sputnik Stunned the World, and Its Rocket Scared the Pentagon Article from Wired which links in the launch of Sputnik with US fears of Soviet advance. Good animation video of Sputnik. By Robert Lemos of US Centennial of Flight site.
  • Sputnik and the Crisis That Followed Well sourced piece by Roger Guillemette reveals how the Soviets deliberately prepared world attention before the launch for maximum impact on the US
  • Competition Versus Cooperation: 1959-1962 NASA article looking at the Cold War produced the space Race rivalry between the USA & USSR


  • The Decision to Go to the Moon: President John F. Kennedy's May 25, 1961 speech to Congress . Text, audio & images
  • Scan of a letter from Wernher Von Braun to Vice President Johnson, dated 29 April 1961, providing Von Braun's personal (not professional) assessment of United States and Soviet capability. The analysis includes the opinion that the U.S. has "an excellent chance" of beating the Russians to a manned lunar landing, adding "with an all-out crash program I think we could accomplish this objective in 1967/68."





3. Early Chaos

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Vanguard (the Navy space programme)
  • Vanguard 1 Profile page from NASA. Clearly set out with links to aspects of the mission If you want (a lot!) more see these NASA sites:
  • Vanguard  Clear overview followed by detailed description of the Vanguard Project from Encyclopedia Astronautica
  • The Breakthrough tells the story of Vanguard (but scroll down the page for it).. Good comparative diagrams with Sputnik-1. Chapter extract from Blazing the Trail by Mike Gruntman
  • Satellite turns 50 years old ... in orbit! 2007 item by James Oberg tells how the Vanguard 1 satellite is still in orbit after 197,000 Earth orbits and racking up more than 6 billion miles, and outlines plans to retrieve it.
  • Satellite - a bust! US newsreel of launch explosion of Vanguard-1. In the pre launch, note how tiny the actual satellite is.
  • Early U.S. rocket and space launch failures Video of early launches with Pomp and Circumstance for the good launches and Flight of the Bumblebee for the (all too many!) failures. But - the US did make their launches public at the time, the Soviets only after a success....
"Plan B" - Explorer (the Army programme & von Braun)
  • The Explorer Story Excellent pdf "booklet" tells the historic story (starting with the V-2's & Operation paperclip) of how the United States responded to Sputnik. JPL designed and built -- and, in cooperation with the Army, launched -- Explorer 1,  the first U.S. satellite and the first spacecraft ever to return scientific data from space. Clear detail, good images.
  • Explorer 1 NASA site of the  first spacecraft successfully launched by the U.S. Excellent layout includes images, animations, diagrams. For even more technical detail see the NASA site:
  • Explorer A Clear outline and good images, diagrams from Encyclopedia Astronautica
  • Remembering When U.S. Finally (and Really) Joined the Space Race New York Times 2008 article recalling the events in Huntsville following Sputnik to get Explorer up and running as soon as possible.
Wernher von Braun

The Origins of the Space Race & the V-2 Click to visit the first part of the casahistoria Space Race site for links to von Braun and the nazi V-2 programme, Operation Paperclip, the scheme to bring German scientists back to the US and the early US White Sands V-2 trials with von Braun & the other German scientists.

  • Biographies:
    • Wernher von Braun Bio and documents linking to his nazi past from the Spartacus Educational Site
    • Wernher von Braun. Brief account but very extensive and detailed career chronology.
    • Wernher von Braun looks mainly at his pre 1945 background. Has audio of von Braun talking about himself.
    • Dr. Wernher von Braun Limited bio from the Redstone Arsenal Historical Information pages (no debate on his nazi background, as might be expected from a site linked to his first employers) but has useful chronology pdf and many photos.
    • Remembering Wernher von Braun's German Rocket Team Broader focus than other bios - looks at the whole team of German scientists. By Dave Bryan, Associated Press
  • Critiques
    • A Tainted Legacy Clear essay from PBS looks at the life and career of von Braun. Does not shirk from placing him in his Nazi context. Excerpted from Von Braun by Michael J. Neufeld, chair of the Space History Division of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.
    • von Braun, Huntsville, and German rocket scientists New York Times article (2007) about how Huntsville, Alabama received the Germans - and dealt with their nazi past.
    • Remembering Von Braun Short essay on his importance by Anthony Young in the The Space Review, 2006. Argues that by handing himself over to the US, and not the USSR, von Braun ensured US victory in the Space Race against the Soviets.
    • "The Disney - von Braun Collaboration and its Influence on Space Exploration" Academic piece on the relationship between the two. Also indicates the importance of Disney in bringing von Braun into the public sphere by the mid 1960's. By Mike Wright, MSFC 
  • Documents:




4. The long catch-up: Chimps, Mercury and Gemini

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Chimps in Space

Mercury Gemini - capturing the lead from the Soviets


  • Former astronauts List of Bios from NASA of all astronauts, including Mercury, Gemini & Apollo. Click on a name from the long list to find out more on a particular astronaut.

Continued Soviet pressure
The Soviet Space "firsts" 1962-65  Go to part 1 of the casahistoria Space Race site for links to the continued Soviet challenge during the Mercury/Gemini period.
  • The 1963 Kennedy Proposal for a Joint Moon Flight looks at the failure of attempts at a cooperative exploration including JFK's UN invitation to the Soviets for a joint lunar mission. NASA
  • Voskhod and Gemini: Intermediate Step Nasa article looking at how both space programms continued to compete and challenge each other through the period of the Mercury & Gemini programmes
  • Luna 9 1966: First spacecraft to achieve a lunar soft landing and to transmit photographic data from the Moon's surface to Earth, preceding the U.S. Surveyor 1 soft lander by about 4 months. see also:
    • Luna 9 The Soviets make the first soft Moon landing. Watch and listen to useful clips from past BBC programmes.
  • Luna 10 1966: First spacecraft to go into orbit around the Moon, and the first human-made object to orbit any body beyond the Earth, in preparation for moon landing.
  • Luna programme Soviet Moon probes achieve a number of firsts. Watch and listen to useful clips from past BBC programmes
  • Soyuz - Development of the Space Station Less than two weeks after the splashdown of Gemini XII, on 28 November 1966, the Soviets launched Cosmos 133, an unmanned test of their new manned spacecraft - Soyuz. This NASA article tells the story of this Soviet attempt to keep up with the successful US Gemini missions -that was lead to disaster (see Below)




5. The final lap: the Moon

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Disasters US recovery:  the Apollo missions
  • Later missions
    • Apollo 13 access key NASA resources. (and here for a more visual site)
    • Explosion threatens Apollo 13 mission  Interesting presentation of original news articles on Apollo 13, easy to read and use, from the Times with images and context pieces set out in the form of a newspaper front page. (At the moment this is free access but could change...).  Has an image gallery. 
    • Apollo Links For a massive list of non- NASA and NASA links to the Apollo programme also see this NASA page
    • Hear the Space Pioneers  Buzz Aldrin on that first-ever landing. Jim Lovell on the terror of Apollo 13. Listen to the compelling stories of these and other Apollo luminaries who got us to the moon. PBS
    • Explore the Moon Join the Apollo astronauts on the surface in this series of stunning 360-degree panoramas (QTVRs), one each from the six successful Apollo moon landings. PBS
    • Watch and listen to useful clips from past BBC programmes on the Apollo Moon Programme. These include:
      • Apollo programme America lands a man on the moon
      • Apollo 8 Astronauts see the dark side of the Moon for the first time.
      • Apollo 11 The United States lands astronauts on the Moon.
      • Apollo 12 Astronauts visit a robotic probe on the Moon.
      • Apollo 13 Astronauts narrowly survive an explosion on the way to the Moon.
      • Apollo 15 Astronauts drive a lunar rover on the Moon for the first time.
      • Apollo 16 Astronauts explore the Moon's Descartes region.
      • Apollo 17 Harrison Schmitt becomes the only scientist to walk on the Moon.
Soviet Lunar missions after Soyuz 1 
  • The Soviet Race to the Moon Useful overview article from Centennial of Flight outlining the key developments in the Soviet lunar (race?) programme in the 1960's by Asif A. Siddiqi.
  • Manned Lunar Programme shows  the sad story of Soviet efforts to match the USA manned moon programme.
  • What Went Wrong? Brief look at the failure of the N-1 lunar rocket programme for a manned moon mission from the Smithsonian.
  • Soviet moon rocket secrets revealed BBC item from 2002 describes details of the then released Soviet manned moon mission rocket being tested in the 1960's for a hoped for 1968 moon landing
  • N-1 moon rocket Excellent detail and development history of the projected manned moon mission rocket from Encyclopedia Astronautica showing how it failed to meet expectations. By looking at the detailed chronology this also outlines quite clearly the failure of the Soviets to meet the final US manned space challenge in the Space Race.
  • Luna 16 Launched just after Apollo 11 & 12 this was the first robotic probe to land on the Moon and return a sample to Earth and the first lunar sample return mission by the Soviet Union and the third overall, following the Apollo 11 and 12 missions
  • The Soviet Lunar Program and the Space Race PBS item compares the Soviet failures with the growing Apollo confidence & success
  • Space Race Diary of Soviet Red Air Force General Nikolai Kaminin which began in 1961 with President John F. Kennedy's call to put a man on the moon within the decade, in a direct challenge to Soviet space supremacy. Interesting insight into the impact of US success. 
Why the USSR lost the Space Race to the Moon
  • Why Did the USSR Lose the Moon Race? 2002 article from Pravda which argues the USSR lost due the failure of its lunar rocket, the N1. This in turn reflected  the economic weakness of the country with the USA greatly outspending the USSR. So the USSR lost the technical race with the USA. Most of all the debacle can be explained it argues by the weakness of the Soviet state management as well. There was nothing in the USSR like NASA in the United States. 
  • Why did the Soviet Union lose the Moon Race? Good clear piece from Encyclopedia Astronautica, set out very thoroughly with the use of headings and subheadings to make arguments evident. Very useful.
  • Space Race Lost: Russians Remember An article using interviews with Russians involved with the Space Race. gives insight to support arguments made in the two articles above. By Adam Tanner §
  • Why the Soviets Never Beat the U.S. to the Moon 1997 Interview With Charles P. Vick, A Soviet space expert who discusses how declassified material confirmed his painstaking discoveries over decades about why the Soviet Union was unable to win the space race.
  • Cosmos unmasked: studying Soviet and Russian space history in the 21st century A more difficult piece from  Space review which looks at how open Russia is today to critical examination of its Space Race history




6. Results & Legacy for the Cold War  

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The ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) Spy & Communications Satellites Technological innovation beyond weapons
  • NASA Spinoffs - Apollo Inventions article looks at some of the main developments in everyday use to have come from the space race
  • More giant leaps? Magazine article looks forty years on, at how the Apollo 11 lunar mission still has an effect on industry.

Overall conclusion on the Space Race And finally:


7. General Sites on the Space Race

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  • Encyclopedia Astronautica Excellent resource. Well detailed and usefully set out with an introduction followed by detailed chronologies
  • The all seeing eye of HAL from Stanley Kubrick's "2001", an amazing product of the Space Race age. Click for the official movie trailer -all done before CGI!!. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.Space Race Time Line Interactive guide to the Race from V2's through to the Moon missions. Good introduction from PBS. Ignore the Flash version - it is very slow to load...
  • Space Race Overview site from History channel. Has clear layout with easy links to Cold War related aspects & video clips.
  • Racing To The Moon  Online exhibition from the Smithsonian looks concisely at the main stages in the Space Race. (click on the left sidebar for topics!)
  • Space history notes. An excellent resource with detailed articles that provide a technical slant to the narrative. many useful orbital maps, diagrams as well as clear explanations. By Sven Grahn
  • Space disasters and near misses  Outlines the (over 100!) deaths and casualties to both USA & USSR during the Space Race in the 1960's
  • NASA History Series Publications NASA has many, many sites, but navigation across them is very hit & miss. I am not sure if NASA themselves know what they have!. However here is a useful page of links to their list of Documents available, many of which are on-line.






8. General Sites on the Cold War  

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  • Cold War Basic outlines of key events from Spartacus Educational. Good place to make a start and includes
  • Cold War Figures - biographies of major figures from this time period.
  • Cold War Excellent school resource for students beginning to look at the Cold War
  • The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) Useful site presenting new information and perspectives on the history of the Cold War, in particular new findings from previously inaccessible sources from the former Communist world.
  • Vint Hill Cold War MuseumUseful online museum that is easy to use with links to virtual exhibits, overview articles, photo galleries, documents, newsletters and many other collections of cold war related material set out clearly by decade.
  • BBC - History: Cold War a series of articles on key aspects of the Cold War from the BBC educational site.
  • The Cold War Files Very good site produced by Wilson Center for Peace for interpreting history of the Cold War through Documents. Includes clear overview items on events and bios on key figures.
  • European Navigator Useful topic documents (speeches/actual agreements/ newspaper articles & images on the post 1945 period from a west European perspective. Use the " historical  events" folder on the left to find your area of study. Well produced by the European Community.
  • Avalon Project at Yale Excellent range of documents from the 20th Century Documents : 1900 - 1999 list
  • The CAESAR, POLO, and ESAU Papers This thorough collection of declassified analytic monographs and reference aids, designated within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Directorate of Intelligence (DI) as the CAESAR, ESAU, and POLO series, highlights the CIA's efforts from the 1950s through the mid-1970s to pursue in-depth research on Soviet and Chinese internal politics and Sino-Soviet relations. The documents reflect the views of seasoned analysts who had followed closely their special areas of research and whose views were shaped in often heated debate.



the casahistoria Cold War sites:  
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Origins of the Cold War
Divided Germany, 1945-49
Korean War
Thaw to Cuban Missile Crisis

Space Race
Vietnam War
Prague'68, Ostpolitik, Detente and China
The End of the Cold War



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