Space Race Lesson for Kids: Facts & Timeline

Instructor: April Inocente
With no idea of the landscape and what it had in store for them, two American astronauts bravely landed and walked on the moon for the very first time. In this lesson you will learn about the great Space Race that led up to this amazing event.

Cold War of Superpowers

Not long ago, beginning in the 1950s, there was a Cold War taking place between the United States and the USSR, but there were actually no battles and no physical fighting. The USSR and the United States had a long struggle for who would be the world's top power. This period of time and the actions each country took to be the world's most powerful country was known as the Cold War.

President Kennedy meeting with leader of the USSR Nikita Khrushchev during the Cold War
Kennedy and Khrushchev

The Race

No man from planet Earth had been in space. Space around Earth was dark and empty. Fast forward to today and space around Earth is filled with satellites, telescopes, the space station, and space junk left over from broken equipment. The moon has an American flag on it in one of the most daring accomplishments of mankind in space.

The Cold War not only forced the United States and the USSR into a dangerous battle of building nuclear bombs, but also created the great Space Race. This started in August 1955 after the United States announced that they would launch the first satellite into space. The USSR beat the United States when they launched the first satellite in space in October 1957, called Sputnik 1. One month later Sputnik 2 was launched into space with a dog aboard it. The United States' first attempt to launch their satellite was a failure, with the satellite burning up in flames, but they had a small success in 1958 when they launched a satellite called Explorer 1 into orbit around the Earth. In 1959 the USSR launched the first rocket to circle the moon and sent back pictures of the dark side. The USSR also beat the United States in getting the first human into space in 1961.

Sputnik 1 satellite
Sputnik 1

The United States Responded

These USSR successes in space made them seem more advanced and more powerful than the United States. The United States responded by passing laws that gave money to schools to focus more on science education, and set up the American space program called NASA in 1958.

Buzz Aldrin saluting the American flag on the moon
Buzz Aldrin

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