Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Sputnik Launches the Space Race

Bernard Baruch, a wealthy financier and adviser to President Harry S. Truman, uttered the words, "Let us not be deceived—today we are in the midst of a cold war," in 1947 during a congressional debate. That same year, journalist Walter Lippmann wrote a series of articles titled "The Cold War" that was first published in the New York Herald Tribune. Both men are credited with popularizing the term "cold war," but neither could have known the tremendous impact the Cold War would have on the world over the second half of the 20th century.

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union moved quickly to establish communism throughout Eastern Europe. Fearing Soviet dominance throughout the Continent and beyond, the United States responded with the Truman Doctrine (1947), which outlined the U.S. government's new "containment" policy. That policy called for the United States to take action to ensure that the spread of communism around the world was contained. That action did not involve direct military confrontation, but instead involved a series of economic, political, propaganda, and scientific battles between the two superpowers.

The successful launch of Sputnik 1 into space by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, propelled the Americans and the Soviets into a new Cold War competition: the space race. The Soviets maintained a commanding lead in the early years of the space race, following up its Sputnik satellites with its equally successful Luna probes, the second of which became the first spacecraft to make it to the moon's surface in 1959. Two years later, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space. President John F. Kennedy responded quickly to this blow to America's pride, promising in a speech to Congress less than two months later that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. That bold promise struck many at the time as unrealistic, but the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) proved up to the challenge, and astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

These five video clips offer a glimpse of several of the major milestones of the space race, including Sputnik 1, Gagarin's flight, and the moon landing.

Video 1: "Sputnik Launch"
Covers the launch of Sputnik 1 and relates how it ignited the space race, leading to the founding of NASA.

Video 2: "Gagarin and Shepard"
Focuses on Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space, and the quick response by NASA, which sent U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard into space less than a month later.

Video 3: "Glenn's Reentry"
Documents U.S. astronaut John Glenn's harrowing reentry into the Earth's atmosphere after becoming the first American to orbit the planet.

Video 4: "Moon Landing"
Shows the historic moon landing in 1969, when Armstrong took his first step on the moon and stated: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

Video 5: "American Reaction"
Relates how a prosperous and proud America was shocked by Sputnik 1 and feared that the Soviets could now launch nuclear warheads at the United States.

After viewing the videos, go to the Need to Know section to gain a contextual understanding of how these events impacted the Cold War and the space race by exploring ABC-CLIO's comprehensive five-volume encyclopedia The Cold War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by Dr. Spencer C. Tucker and Dr. Priscilla Mary Roberts. The essays by top scholars in the Point of View section offer a detailed overview of the launch of Sputnik 1 and provide insight into the reaction this historic event engendered in the United States and the Soviet Union. Finally, visit the Examine section for activities related to Sputnik for use in the classroom.


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