Who Won the Space Race – U.S.A or U.S.S.R.?


Can you hear it? That’s the starter pistol that set off the
space race between the United States and the Soviet Union—60 years ago. In a two person race, there’s a winner and
a loser. All these years later, people (in America
at least) know the U.S. won the space race. I mean, we landed on the moon. But, if you think about it, did did the U.S.
really win the race? Let’s go back to when it all began, on October
4, 1957. The U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik-1, the first
artificial satellite into space. (Archive news radio:) “Today a new moon is in the sky, a 23 inch
metal sphere placed in orbit by a Russian rocket…” That beeping sound you heard? That’s Sputnik-1. But the space race started two years before
Sputnik launched. (Archive news footage:) “We’ve been assigned the mission of launching
a scientific Earth satellite.” That’s when the U.S. announced it would
go into orbit first. Their plan? To launch 10 satellites into space between
1957 and 1958… The thing is, Soviet scientists had also been
working for years on a rocket capable of reaching space, and a satellite to go with it. All the U.S. announcement did was intensify
their work and free up more money for the U.S.S.R.’s build of a shining satellite
for the world to behold. The shocking success of Sputnik ignited a
firestorm of interest in space all over the world. People peered through binoculars in backyards,
or tuned in to ham radios to witness Sputnik passing overhead. Meanwhile… America, bereft with its second place status,
panicked… (Archive news footage:) “America’s prestige had never been lower.” … and started pushing students towards science,
technology, engineering, and math, hoping to catch up. They even founded NASA. Scientific competition got heated at the height
of the Cold War. Cut to January 1958, the U.S. launched a satellite,
Explorer-1, four months after Sputnik. (Archive news footage:) “You can send this off to the Secretary—that
our satellite is definitely on orbit. (Pardon this interruption, Popular Science
presents, ‘A Brief Note.’) The U.S.S.R. launched Laika, the first living
animal to head into orbit. Yuri Gagarin beat John Glenn into space by
10 months Valentina Tershkova beat Sally Ride into space
by nearly 20 years. That’s a lot of notable firsts for not winning
the space race… So, who won in the end? Team U.S.A. or the C.C.C.P.? It would be over a decade after Sputnik’s
launch before American space plans overtook Soviet efforts and landed on the moon, something
that no other country has successfully repeated. Competition continued on space stations and
spaceflights for years after the moon landing, until the Apollo-Soyuz mission, when two spacecrafts—one Soviet and one American—docked in space, opening a new era of cooperation. The space race pushed both countries to innovate,
challenge their technical limits, and push the boundaries of what was possible. That’s why the winner of the space race
wasn’t the U.S. or the Soviets. It was all of us. Without it, we wouldn’t have weather satellites,
telecommunications, GPS, or even be able to contemplate visiting not only our moon, but
other worlds. The competition drove us to be better humans. And it all started with… (Archive news footage:) “Dwarfed by the giant carrier rocket and the
gantry, the Explorer-1 satellite is carefully fitted into place, like a glittering jewel
in a metallic setting.”