Who Actually Won the Space Race?

The Space Race Pitted the USSR Against the USA

When examing the Soviet Union during the Nikita Khrushchev era, many people think about the start of the Space Race between the USSR and the USA. The competition dominated the 1960s as both nations wanted to be the first, and, perhaps most powerful, nation in space. Growing up in America, I was always taught and told that the Americans won the Space Race since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon first before the USSR. I would argue, however, that while the US did land on the Moon first, they continuously came in second place against the Soviet Union throughout the 1950s and 60s. This raises the question: Who actually won the Space Race?

The Space Race began in 1955 when the Soviet Union faced off against the United States in regard to which country would be the dominating nation in space. The first major event occurred on October 4, 1957, when the USSR launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to enter space (Freeze 423). This milestone was massive for both scientific and political reasons as the USSR was able to claim the first victory in the 12-year competition. Following this, the Soviet Union continued to build on their initial success as they were first in sending a dog into space in November 1957, putting a man in space with Yuri Gagarin in April 1961, and the first man who performed a spacewalk in March 1965 (Conger). In each of these achievements, the Soviet Union had continuously proven that they were better than the United States in dominating space.

The US Claimed Victory in the Space Race Following Their Moon Landing.

Responding to their losses, the United States continued to move the goalposts so that they could eventually claim victory in winning the Space Race. This ultimately would lead to the Moon being the final contest as every other contest was already won by the USSR. As everyone is already aware, the US would win this final battle and, accordingly, claim victory in the Space Race that had dominated the past decade. This claim is not based in reality, however, as the US only won the final part of the much larger competition with the USSR. Moreover, the US also spent over $25 billion on the Space Race while the USSR spent less than half of that (Conger). All of this contributes to raising the ultimate question: Who actually won the Space Race? In my opinion, I think that the US simply changed the rules to the competition until they were able to finally win. In turn, I believe that the Soviet Union is the true winners of the Space Race.

Conger, Cristen. “Did NASA Win the Space Race?” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 27 Jan. 2020, science.howstuffworks.com/nasa-space-race1.htm.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

“Space 101: The Space Race, The Galactic Gal.” The Galactic Gal, 13 Dec. 2019, www.thegalacticgal.com/2019/11/29/space-101-the-space-race/.

Wall, Mike. “Space Race: Could the U.S. Have Beaten the Soviets Into Space?” Space.com, Space, 8 Apr. 2011, www.space.com/11336-space-race-united-states-soviets-spaceflight-50years.html.

Stalinism’s Impact on the Soviet Union

The Second Five-Year Plan (January 1933-December 1937) was Stalin’s next attempt at transforming the Soviet Union. The main objectives of the Plan centered around improving the nation’s industry.  When first drafted, the plans followed the “same ‘great leap forward’ psychology” that was present in the First Plan. This mentality did not last, however, as the Second Five-Year Plan was downsized due to famine and other “terrible events” that occurred in 1933 (Freeze 358). As a result, the new Plan focussed on “assimilation and mastery of technology” instead of simply increasing production overall. Moreover, as stated by Vyacheslav Molotov, the Second Five-Year Plan took aim at the “elimination of the struggle between town and country” and “a higher level of cultural development” (Turin 62).

The Second Five-Year Plan Took Aim at Assimilation and Mastering Technology

This Second Plan, along with its predecessor, impacted the peasant-turned-workers in multiple different ways. While the rise in workers who were peasants in the past is perhaps the most obvious change, another apparent difference was the increase in discipline that these new workers faced from the Soviet state. This punishment, often referred to by Bolsheviks as “labour discipline,” was dominant throughout the 1930s as millions of peasants now joined the new-look workforce.

Another impact of the Second Five-Year Plan was a massive decrease in the output and quality of agriculture crop return during the 1930s. This came while the other industries prepared for war by producing weapons and machinery. In turn, “investments in the collective and state farm system remained woefully minuscule” (Freeze 372). This contributed in shifting the movement away from “building socialism” and towards “Stalinism” (Freeze 373). 


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Stalin. “From the First to the Second Five-Year Plan: A Symposium by V. Molotov STALIN, L. Kaganovich, Oseph on Lorne Bair Rare Books.” Lorne Bair Rare Books, International Publishers, www.lornebair.com/pages/books/29679/v-molotov-stalin-l-kaganovich-oseph/from-the-first-to-the-second-five-year-plan-a-symposium.

Turin, S. P. “The Second Five Year Plan.” The Slavonic and East European Review, vol. 11, no. 31, 1932, pp. 58–64. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4202738. Accessed 5 Apr. 2020.