Space Race Propaganda During The Cold War

Instructor: Anne Butler
The years following World War II were a competition between the Soviets and the Americans to become the world's superpower. Everything was to be conquered, even space.

The Radiated Early Days

The Cold War began in 1947, two years after the end of World War II. The world was still rebuilding, but new threats were already emerging. Even though they had tenuously worked together during the war, neither the Soviet Union (as it was known then) nor the United States trusted each other.

Meanwhile, the two governments were trying to figure out how they could see what the other was doing without being on the ground. President Dwight Eisenhower proposed an open skies policy at a 1955 meeting in Geneva, Switzerland with France, Britain, and the Soviet Union. He wanted to be able to fly over the Soviet Union to see what they were doing, and the Soviets would do the same. The Soviets rejected the policy, spurring Eisenhower to announce the development of a satellite later that year. The Space Race had begun.

Satellites and Space Exploration

The Soviet Union won the first round of the Space Race when they launched Sputnik 1 into orbit on October 4, 1957. Their next satellite, Sputnik 2, launched the first animal in space, a dog named Laika. This was only about a month after the launch of Sputnik 1. The two launches made Americans feel that Eisenhower wasn't taking space exploration seriously. However, the U.S. space program caught up a few months later with the launch of Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958. Not only was it successfully launched, but it managed to gather data as well.

The U.S. tried to get the public excited about the programs that were developing. Curriculum was created for school children to improve math and science education. A collaboration between Walt Disney and the space program introduced the potential of space travel to television viewers. Playground equipment was even designed to look like rocket ships and other machinery. The most well-known aspect of the space program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was formed the same year as Explorer 1's launch.

Walt Disney with NASA Director Wernher von Braun

The goal for both nations at the end of the 1950s was to be the first on the moon. The Soviet Union's launch of Luna 3 in 1959 sent back the first images of the moon.

Astronauts Become the New Heroes

The race to see who would get a man in space first was the next competition. The Soviets won again in 1961 when Yuri Gagarin flew into space on April 12. Vostok 1 had a rocky orbit, but it was still a win. USA's Alan Shepard went into space less than a month later on Freedom 7.

Yuri Gagarin

Alan Shepard

By this time, John F. Kennedy had become president. About a month after Gagarin's flight, Kennedy addressed Congress and expressed that the U.S. should make it their goal to go to the moon. The Soviets may have been the first man in space, but the United States would be the first on the moon. In another speech in 1962, Kennedy urged the crowd to remember how the country was founded, how their ancestors had crossed the prairies to populate the land. Space exploration would be the new frontier.

The Soviets focused on national pride as well. Propaganda posters urged them to focus on the space program as bringing pride to Mother Russia and to communism. The launching of female astronaut Valentina Tereshkova into space in 1963 was proclaimed as a victory in equality for Soviet women.

Soviet Propaganda Poster
russia poster

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