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Sputnik, the Space Race, and NASA

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Saved by Robert W. Maloy
on March 30, 2024 at 8:55:34 am

Topics on the Page


The Conditions that Led to the Space Race


President Eisenhower’s response to the Soviet’s launching of Sputnik


The Creation of NASA


The National Defense Education Act of 1958


Timeline for the Space Race


    • Anniversary of the First Human in Space 





  • After World War II, many Western European countries such as England, France and Germany were left in shambles. This left the United States and the USSR as the world's largest powers.


  • Conflicting ideologies between communism and capitalism created extreme competition between the countries. This led to the Nuclear Arms Race and the Space Race. 


  • At the height of the Cold War, the launching of Sputnik caught the West totally by surprise.


  • Sputnik - first artificial satellite to be put into orbit, on October 4, 1957. 


  • This terrified Eisenhower, and a lot of the country, who were filled with Cold War uncertainties, that the U.S. was no longer number one in advanced technology.


    • A week later the U.S. Office of Education published a study confirming that the Soviet Union outranked the United States in every aspect of science and technology.


  • The only hope, in Eisenhower’s and many U.S. citizen’s minds, was to reinvigorate American education, to place more emphasis on science, to add more discipline, and to use Sputnik as a threat of thermonuclear war to get kids to focus more.


    • Sputnik, not only reformed U.S. education but lead to the Space Race against the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The United States launched Explorer I, Courier 1B, and Project SCORE in response to Soviet advances in the space race



 Created NASA in 1958; its goal was to compete with the Soviet Union and its space program.




    • Read Sputnik's influence on America from NOVA PBS.


    • Watch a CBS news story from October 6th, 1957.


    • Click to read History.com's overview of the Sputnik launch.

Click here for a documentary on what became known as the "Sputnik Moment."


October Sky Trailer : The trailer for the movie October Sky, a movie based on the true story of a young American who was inspired greatly by the launch of Sputnik and became a engineer for NASA

National Defense Education Act was signed September 2, 1958 and was in response to the Soviets launching of the satellite Sputnik.


  • This funded education in the United States with a focus on math, science, and foreign language which the United States was falling behind the Soviet Union in.


  • It provided National Defense scholarships for students to pursue higher education in fields that were essential for national defense.


Click to see a timeline of the Cold War.

Click for a Crash Course video on the Cold War, including areas regarding US domestic policy.


This is a link for a timeline of the Space Race beginning with the launch of Sputnik.


5 minute video on the Space Race that details some of the larger, societal implications of it as well. 


April 12 is the Anniversary of the First Human in Space


  • Yuri Gagarin was the first human to launch into space in 1961
    • Yuri was a Soviet cosmonaut aboard the vessel Vostok 1 




First American Astronaut in Space 

  • On May 5, 1961, Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 spacecraft on a suborbital flight, becoming the first American to travel into space. This flight lasted about 15 minutes and reached an altitude of 116 miles (187 kilometers) above the Earth's surface.
  •  Shepard's historic flight helped boost American morale in the Space Race against the Soviet Union, which had already achieved significant milestones in space exploration, including sending the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space.
  •  Later in his career, Shepard commanded the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, during which he became the fifth person to walk on the Moon, and the first to play golf on its surface.
  • Here is a detailed look at Shepards famous "Moon Shot."


JFK's Moon Speech 


  • In a speech to Congress (1961), President Kennedy declared the goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade with the famous phrase, "We choose to go to the moon."


Gemini Program 

  • The United States developed the Gemini program to test various spaceflight capabilities necessary for the Apollo missions (1961-66).


Apollo Program 

  • The Apollo program was a series of NASA missions between 1961 and 1972 aimed at landing humans on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth.
  • It began with tragedy as Apollo 1 ended in a fatal cabin fire.
  • Apollo 7 proved successful as the first manned mission, orbiting Earth.
  • Apollo 8 followed, becoming the first to orbit the Moon.
  • Apollo 11, the most famous mission, saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first humans to walk on the lunar surface.
  • Apollo 13 narrowly avoided disaster after an oxygen tank explosion.
  • The final mission, Apollo 17, saw the last human footsteps on the Moon. Overall, the Apollo program advanced space exploration and technology, fulfilling President Kennedy's goal set during the Cold War space race.
  • Here is a video explaining and showing the Apollo 11 Landing 


Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin 

  • Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were American astronauts who made history as the first humans to set foot on the Moon during NASA's Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969.
  • Armstrong, the mission commander, stepped onto the lunar surface first, famously saying, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
  • Aldrin, the lunar module pilot, followed shortly after.
  • Their achievement marked a monumental moment in human history, showcasing the culmination of scientific and engineering efforts in space exploration. 


Guion Bluford

  • Guion Bluford is a retired NASA astronaut and the first African American to travel to space.
  • Bluford joined NASA in 1978 and flew on four Space Shuttle missions
    • His first mission, STS-8 in 1983 aboard Challenger, marked his historic achievement.
    •  Bluford's subsequent missions included scientific research and Department of Defense objectives.
  •  After retiring from NASA and the Air Force in 1993, Bluford continued his career in engineering and technology.
  • He remains an inspirational figure, breaking barriers and inspiring diversity in space exploration. 


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