Sputnik and the Space Race

A New York Times Article about the recent Soviet Satellite called Sputnik being launched

On Octorber 4, 1957 the first successful space launch occurred and the world looked on in awe as infinite new possibilities were born.  The Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1 from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan into a low orbit around the earth.  This accomplishment was astounding for the entire scientific community of the world.  The Soviet Union took great pride in their leap ahead of the rest of the world.  Sputnik could be seen passing overhead every day, and this caused great pride for the Soviets and great fear for the Americans who looked up and saw it.

sputnik matchbook

First Sputnik Matchbook (195Smilie: 8) Tallinn match factory, 1957. Dedicated to the launch of the first sputnik.

The implications of this launch were earth shattering.  The Soviet Union gained a capability which no other nation possessed.  The rocket which carried Sputnik, designed by Kurchatov, was a four chamber cluster of rockets.  It became a major military concern that this method which could launch satellites into space could be used to launch nuclear missiles at United States targets.  The US Congress reacted by passing the National Defense Education Act in 1958 which spent five billion on higher education in the sciences and foreign languages.  The Pentagon also forced massive spending increases in rocket development.


Sputnik 1

This launch kicked into effect the space race which has been the source of innumerable technological advancements in the world.  The United States and The Soviet Union became entwined in a fierce competition of technological advancement striving to meet such goals as having a person orbit the earth and putting a man on the moon.  These goals were met in an incredibly short time because of the intensity with which the Us and USSR pursued these goals.



Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:




Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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7 Responses to Sputnik and the Space Race

  1. I like that you emphasized Sputnik’s effect on US education. Even though America pushed education advancement during the Cold War, today our students are falling behind international standards but the urgency and government support to tend to education reform is seriously lacking.

  2. This post gives good detail of the Soviet and American space rivalry during the late 50s. I enjoyed reading about the beginnings of the space race, though the post was alittle short and i wish it had had more.

  3. Good post! I agree with Anna: think it’s interesting how you noted that Sputnik caused America to spend “five billion on higher education in the sciences and foreign languages.” That’s a huge number, especially for the 1950s, but it was definitely money well-spent. I have always found it interesting to learn about the rivalries the Soviet Union and the United States faced, and the Space Race was one more huge rivalry between the two.

  4. This is a cool post because it seems so alien to our generation to think of Russia as equal to the US or even better but this was definitely the case back in the day. Fortunately, as you said, Congress got on its game real quick and passed laws to help us surpass them….luckily we don’t have to depend on our current Congress for such prompt action.

  5. Competition between two nations has always greatly increased technological innovations. One example would be all the way back to when the Assyrian empire fought against neighboring groups and learned how to effectively use steel weapons. The Hittites saw this and developed the three maned chariot to counter the new steel weaponry. Thankfully the technological advances made by the competition from the USSR and US were not as violent as the previous example and have led to many great things to help humanity as a whole.

  6. Nice post. Its amazing how far russia progressed in half a century. They transformed from an ag. based society into an industrial empire capable of leading the space race.

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