The USA and the Space Race - Maxicours

The USA and the Space Race

Objectif
  • Découvrir un aspect de la notion d'étude innovations scientifiques et responsabilité
  • Approfondir ses connaissances sur la Conquête de l'Espace et la Guerre Froide
Points clés
  • L'un des domaines dans lesquels s'opposèrent les États-Unis à la Russie lors du conflit de la Guerre Froide fut la conquête spatiale.
  • Des années 1950 à 1975, ils n'eurent de cesse de vouloir prouver la supériorité de leurs avancées technologiques en envoyant dans l'espace des satellites, des fusées, des hommes.
  • Derrière cette course folle, il s'agissait de montrer la primauté de son système politique.
  • Le symbole de cette période reste le premier pas de l'Homme sur la lune le 20 juillet 1969.

A few years after World War II had ended a new conflict began between two great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Known as the Cold War, this battle rested on the conquest of space and each side wanted to prove that its technology was by far superior to its opponent’s. But it was also the opportunity for each country to claim that its political system was better. So, in the eyes of the world, it was very important for each competitor to win the space race.

1. The Space Race, its Causes

The Cold War started in the mid-1950s between the USA and the Soviet Union and each country tried to get as many arms or nuclear weapons as possible so as to be able to defend themselves in case of an attack. Spies were everywhere because the USA and the Soviet Union were afraid of each other and wanted to know what the other was preparing. Some events like the construction of the Berlin Wall and missile crisis in Cuba exacerbated the tensions too. The space race started then.

2. The Space Race, its Consequences
a. The First Steps

The first to enter the competition were the Russians who placed an artificial satellite (Sputnik) into the Earth’s orbit on October 4, 1957. It was vital for the Americans, who had now good reasons to fear their opponents’ nuclear power, to reply. Moreover, as great explorers they were angry and upset to acknowledge that the Russians had started to explore a new territory before them. They had crossed a border that no one had crossed before!
In 1958 the USA launched Explorer I and President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the NASA, well-determined to explore space, whatever the costs.

b. The First Footsteps

One year later the Russians launched Luna 2 and in April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel in outer space. One month later, after testing chimpanzees, Alan Shepard was the first American to be sent into space.
A few weeks later, President John F. Kennedy announced that an American would land on the moon in the years to come. And he was right because on July 16, 1969 Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins embarked on Apollo 11 and on July 20, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, declaring

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Consequently, after such a brilliant feat, the world could declare the Americans winners of the Space Race after 12 years of attempts and failures on both sides. It was a fantastic adventure for the rest of the world who could follow the exploits of the astronauts on a new medium, the television, and the latter were of course considered as the new heroes of the world. The Russians were the great losers of the race, unable to prove the world the power of the communist system in spite of all their efforts.

The Cold War ended in 1975 when a Russian-American spacecraft was launched, symbolizing a considerable warming in the relations between the two powers.

3. Conclusion

After World War II where they had proved how important and essential their involvement in the conflict had been, the Americans wanted to continue their efforts in the eyes of the world and win another battle, not on Earth this time but in space. They did it and new heroes won broad acclaim when the final stage of the race saw Neil Armstrong plant the national flag on the moon. A new era had just started.

— Mid-1950s: The Cold War starts between the USA and the Soviet Union
— October 4, 1957: The Russians place an artificial satellite (Sputnik) into the Earth's orbit
— 1958: The USA launch Explorer I and create the NASA
— April 1961: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first person to travel in outer space
— July 20, 1969: Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the moon
— 1975: End of the Cold War

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