The Influence of the Cold War on Space Exploration

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At the end of WWII, two superpowers emerged signaling the beginning of the cold war era that lasted from 1945 to 1991. The United States of America and the Soviet Union, started to flex their muscles soon after the war ended. They differed in ideology and beliefs. They dominated world politics during this period.

The age of espionage was at its height during this time. The United States had upstaged the Soviet Union by acquiring Wernher von Braun and the V2 rocket weaponry at the end of WWII. Classified secrets were passed back and forth using spies and double agents. The youngest known spy to pass nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union was only 19 years old. He was never prosecuted.

The early 1950s were filled with fear and were primarily concerned with the "bomb". Nuclear fission was not clearly comprehended by everyone, but the devastating effects of the bomb were known. With the new media and widespread use of television, American citizens were getting a daily dose of international news and a taste of Russian propaganda. It was a fearful time. Americans sensed that the world had turned a corner in the ability to destroy itself.

In the United States bomb shelters were sold to those who wanted and could afford them. A red phone was installed in the White House and in the Kremlin for use in an emergency to prevent any misunderstandings. This promoted fear instead of reassuring the public.

Starting in 1945, the United States began its space program in earnest with the acquisition of Wernher von Braun heading the team same team of scientists he brought from Germany at the end of the war. V2 rockets and components were gathered and brought to the U.S. along with the rocket team. There was a big enough arsenal to build a number of V2 rockets from the inventory. V2 rockets were assembled, tested and launched from White Sands, N.M. starting in 1946.

By 1949, von Braun and his team of scientists were commissioned to produce the super V2 rocket. They designed and tested a variant of the V2 missile that became a first stage rocket for the space program. The Redstone rocket came from that effort and was used in the launch of the first American satellite in 1958 and was the launch vehicle for the first sub orbital space flight in 1961 by astronaut, Alan Shephard.

The giant moon rockets, Saturn, came soon after. They were the first stage launch vehicles for the Apollo space program. Their testing started in October of 1961.

Military weaponry was also being developed for V2 principles at this time. The first Intermediate range ballistic missile came about in this same time period.

Products came about as a result of the space program:

Microwave oven 1946
Integrated circuits 1958
First communications satellite 1960
Corona Spy Satellite 1960
Minuteman ICBM 1962
Arpanet 1968 (later became the Internet)
Smoke detector 1970
Supercomputer 1976
GPS 1970 to 1990s

The cold war ended in 1991 when the former U.S.S.R., the Soviet Union, ceased to exist. The Soviet Union was made of 15 republics. In 1991, they became 15 independent states.


More about this author: Mona Gallagher

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