Though it began as an intense competition between Cold War rivals, the Space Race resulted in many imperative advancements in aerospace technology, and a combined effort to extend the amount of time humans can live in space, and our overall knowledge of the world outside of our planet through the International Space Station. The Start of the Space Race July 1955 marked one of the first events leading towards the space race, as US president Dwight Eisenhower proposed an “Open Skies” policy, calling for the “United States and the Soviet Union to exchange maps indicating the exact location of every military installation in their respective nations.
With these maps in hand, each nation would then be allowed to conduct aerial surveillance of the installations in order to assure that the other nations were in compliance with any arms control agreements that might be reached,” (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/eisenhower-presents-his-open-skies-plan) However, the Soviet Union rejected the plan, declaring it was nothing more than an “espionage plot.” Even after the plan was rejected, the US used high-altitude spy planes to spy on the Soviets Union and found exactly why the Soviet Union rejected the plan: their military capabilities where far behind those of United States. Soon after, President Eisenhower announced his plans to begin working on a scientific satellite, and the Soviet Union immediately responded with plans for their own satellite. Although the US was the first to announce their plans, the Soviet Union was the first to create and successfully launch a satellite. On October 4, 1957, The Soviet Union used a Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile to launch Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, and the first man-made satellite placed into Earth’s orbit. Sputnik was about “the size of a beach ball (58 cm or 22.
8 inches in diameter), weighed only 83.6 kg. or 183.9 pounds, and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path” (https://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/) The demonstration of the power of the R-7 missile, which the US believed to be capable of delivering nuclear warheads to US airspace, made gathering intelligence on Soviet military actions urgent, spurring the US into a period of technological advancement.
Still, the Soviet Union seemed to be ahead in the newly begun “space race”, with the launch of their second satellite, Sputnik 2, also the first man-made object to carry a life form, a dog named Laika, into space. Sputnik 2 “was a 4-meter high cone-shaped capsule with a base diameter of 2 meters. It contained several compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, a regeneration and temperature control system for the cabin, and scientific instruments” (https://nssdc.gsfc.
nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=1957-002A) On January 31, 1958, the first US satellite, Explorer 1, launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force station. Explorer 1 “was 203 centimeters (80 inches) long and 15.9 centimeters (6.25 inches) in diameter” (https://www.
nasa.gov/mission_pages/explorer/explorer-overview.html) and orbited the earth more than 58,00 times, over a course of about 12 years, though it stopped transmitting information after about 4 months. The satellite, designed by the US army under the direction of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, was soon followed by Vanguard 1, which is still in orbit today, now the oldest man-made object in space. Following the launch of Explorer 1 and Vanguard 1, throughout 1958, the US launched Explorer 2-5, Explorer 2 and Explorer 5 failed, while Explorer 3 and Explorer 4 succeeded.
Beyond launches and discoveries in space, President Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as well as 2 more national security-oriented space programs, one lead by the US Air Force, exploring the military potential of space, and the second, led by the CIA, Air Force, and National Reconnaissance program, focused on using orbiting satellites to gather intelligence on the Soviet Union (http://www.history.com/topics/space-race). Through the creation of NASA, another set of mission to space was created for the US, Pioneer missions 0-11, the most recent, Pioneer 11, being launched in 1973, and the first Pioneer 0, being launched in 1958, though the mission was deemed a failure when the first stage engine failed, causing the craft to explode. The Moon With the US and Soviet Union both having successfully sent satellites into space, and the Soviet Union proving that life could be sent into space, and brought back alive, both countries set their sights on a new milestone, the moon. On January 2, 1959, the Soviet Union becomes the first to take steps towards the moon with the launch of Luna 1. Luna 1 was set to orbit the moon, however, it missed it target, but became the first man-made object to fly beyond Earth’s orbit, and orbit the sun.
Following the Soviet Union’s attempt for the moon, the US launched Pioneer 4 towards the moon on March 3, 1959, but like Luna 1, Pioneer 4 misses and falls into solar orbit. The Soviet Union had two more launches in 1959, Luna 2 on September 12, and Luna 3 on October 4. Luna 2 successfully landed on the moon on September 14, two days after launch, becoming the first man-made object on the moon, while Luna 3 flew by the moon and photographed much of the far side.
Throughout 1960, the US and Soviet Union worked to create more satellites, and the Soviet Union began to work on sending animals into space, and returning them safely.