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date: 21 May 2018

space race

A Dictionary of Space Exploration

E. Julius Dasch

space race 

The intense competition between the USA and USSR to become the leader in space activities from the late 1940s until the USSR's collapse in 1991. Rivalry began after World War II when both the USA and the USSR set up programmes for German rocket scientists who had helped develop the V-2 military rocket in the 1940s. The race was officially initiated with the Soviet launch of its Sputnik spacecraft in 1958. The USSR achieved the early triumphs in space, including the first spacecraft to reach the Moon (Luna 2 in 1959), the first person in space (Yuri Gagarin in 1961), and the first space walk (Aleksei Leonov in 1965). The greatest prize, however, went to the USA for landing the first astronauts on the Moon (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969). Although the Soviets continued in their successes, such as achieving residential endurance records on the Mir space station and the robotic return of lunar surface samples, the demise of communism (leading to the break up of the USSR in 1991 and accompanying economic collapse) devastated the space programme. The newly independent Russia subsequently received financial support from the West for its continuation of the programme. The space race ended with the emergence of joint projects, such as the ApolloSoyuz Test Project and the International Space Station.