the space race: this page has links to the cold war US-USSR rivalry in space, part 1: nazi origins & the soviet challenge   

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   Valentina Tershkova, first woman in space.Right from the start, the training of Russia’s first female cosmonauts was as alien as the environment in which one of them would operate. Although all had flying or parachuting experience, the closeted military world of the cosmonaut team came as a huge cultural shock to them. Photo Credit: Roscosmos  casahistoria - web site for students of modern history!

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casahistoria is recommended by many sites including:




1. The Origins of the Technology: the Nazi Role
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See these casahistoria sites for further background:
The Origins of the Cold War Go to the casahistoria site for links to the context behind the emerging cold war competition in space.


The V2 Early Allied Capture & use of V2 weapons 





2. The Soviet Programme
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  • The Zarya Web Site  Worthwhile site produced by UK astronomers with images, accounts, diaries and fact sheets on the Soviet space.  (use the links in the side margine to find information). Includes space programmes and space research undertaken by the Soviet Union starting with Korolyov's R-7 rocket and Sputnik earth satellites. ("Zarya" (Sunrise) was the radio call sign for the Baikonur-based mission control when Yuri Gagarin went into orbit.)
  • Soviet Space Good clear Powerpoint introduction of Soviet Space success up to the mid 1960's. useful place to start.
  • Sergei P. Korolev (1906-1966) Three bios of the man behind the early Soviet space programme:
Sputnik I
    US Reaction to Sputnik I
  • Sputnik and the Origins of the Space Age A basic NASA account of how Sputnik led to the setting up of NASA, 1957-8. By Roger D. Launius who also reveals that the Soviets timed the launch to coincide with a party at the end of an international scientific conference for maximum impact.
  • A Blow to the Nation Detailed & useful item examining the reaction of the US and arguing that National insecurity, wounded national pride, infighting, political grandstanding, clandestine plots, and ruthless media frenzy were but a few of the things the United States had to overcome to bounce back from the blow dealt by SputniK. Excerpted by PBS from the book Sputnik: The Shock of the Century by Paul Dickson
  • David Hoffman shares his Sputnik mania Filmmaker David Hoffman shares footage from his feature-length documentary Sputnik Mania, which shows how the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to both the space race and the arms race -- and jump-started science and math education around the world. The audio commentary is very clear about the impact of Sputnik on the Cold War. For once, the "comment" section is also useful concerning the impact on people at the time.
  • Sputnik Stunned the World, and Its Rocket Scared the Pentagon Article from Wired which links in the launch of Sputnik with US fears of Soviet advance. Good animation video of Sputnik. By Robert Lemos of US Centennial of Flight site.
  • Sputnik and the Crisis That Followed Well sourced piece by Roger Guillemette reveals how the Soviets deliberately prepared world attention before the launch for maximum impact on the US
Lunar Success
  • Luna 1 (Mechta) 1959: First spacecraft to reach the Moon, and the first of a series of Soviet automatic interplanetary stations successfully launched in the direction of the Moon. Clear NASA outline. See also:
  • Luna 2 1959: Second of a series of spacecraft launched in the direction of the Moon. This was the  first spacecraft to land on the Moon. Nasa.  See also:
    • Luna E-1A  from Encyclopedia Astronautica
    • Luna 2 The Soviets crash a probe into the Moon. Watch and listen to useful clips from past BBC programmes
  • Luna 3 1959: Third spacecraft successfully launched to the Moon and the first to return images of the far side of the moon. See also:
Dogs in Space
  • Sputnik (1957-1963) listing and outline details of the entire Sputnik series
  • Sputnik 2 Clear outline account (for an even briefer survey go to the foot of the page)
  • Sputnik-2 Detailed (and technical) account of the flight that carried Laika, the dog into space. Well illustrated.
  • 1957: Russians launch dog into space BBC 'On this Day' item
  • Russian dogs in space Page of details on the Soviet dogs sent to space (Lower down the page for space chimps - US flights and lesser known space cats, France, and other creatures sent into space.)
  • The Soviet Union’s first space survivors Russian TV news item (2010) on Belka and Strelka - the two dogs who were onboard the Sputnik-5 spacecraft when it broke into orbit on August 19, 1960, circled the Earth 17 times and returned home. Both survived and the report tells how Mr K gave the daughter of the US Mr K one as a gift.... Good footage and background interviewing.
  • Message from the First Dog in Space Received 45 Years Too Late 2002 Article from Scoop News (!) that breaks the news that Laika died of fright during launch. (See also the BBC 2002 report about this) A well detailed page with images, NY Times report of the time and slightly off-centre facts about the space dogs.

Manned Soviet Space flight
  • First man in space  Interesting presentation of original news articles, easy to read and use, from the Times with images and context pieces set out in the form of a newspaper front page. (At the moment this is free access but could change...). Sections of images, maps items on:  Yuri Gagarin - the first man in space; Propaganda Coup; An Instant Hero and a Picture gallery: Yuri Gagarin
    Biographies of Gagarin     Flight of Vostok 1
  • Vostok-1 Very useful site from russianspace.web giving extensive detail about the flight & its background. Especially strong on technical aspects. Good links in sidebars to further info, images and documents. Well worthwhile visiting.
  • Vostok  Cutaway Drawing
  • What it feels like in space Guardian item from April 1961 based on Gagarin description of his space voyage.
  • Roads In Space Notes of Soviet cosmonaut This is supposedly Gagarin's own concise memoir published 1961 with sections on his youth and the first space flight. In Russian but translates easily and clearly using Google.
  • Vostok Wins the First Lap Clear account of the flight from Nasa. Looks at the technicalities and draws comparisons with the US Mercury programme. Diagram of orbital flight.
  • Medical Implications Of The Cosmonaut Fights NASA item on the release of medical data on the flight by the Embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in Washington, D.C
  • NASA video of Gagarin launch. Unlike many on YouTube this has no obtrusive background music!!
    Other Soviet Manned Space "Firsts"  Finally on the early Soviet lead:




3. The US Response
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The US Response Go to Part 2 of the casahistoria Space Race site.
Sections on:






4. General Sites on the Space Race

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5.General Sites on the Cold War  

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  • Cold War Basic outlines of key events from Spartacus Educational. Good place to make a start and includes
  • Cold War Figures - biographies of major figures from this time period.
  • Cold War Excellent school resource for students beginning to look at the Cold War
  • The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) Useful site presenting new information and perspectives on the history of the Cold War, in particular new findings from previously inaccessible sources from the former Communist world.
  • Vint Hill Cold War MuseumUseful online museum that is easy to use with links to virtual exhibits, overview articles, photo galleries, documents, newsletters and many other collections of cold war related material set out clearly by decade.
  • BBC - History: Cold War a series of articles on key aspects of the Cold War from the BBC educational site.
  • The Cold War Files Very good site produced by Wilson Center for Peace for interpreting history of the Cold War through Documents. Includes clear overview items on events and bios on key figures.
  • European Navigator Useful topic documents (speeches/actual agreements/ newspaper articles & images on the post 1945 period from a west European perspective. Use the " historical  events" folder on the left to find your area of study. Well produced by the European Community.
  • Avalon Project at Yale Excellent range of documents from the 20th Century Documents : 1900 - 1999 list
  • The CAESAR, POLO, and ESAU Papers This thorough collection of declassified analytic monographs and reference aids, designated within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Directorate of Intelligence (DI) as the CAESAR, ESAU, and POLO series, highlights the CIA's efforts from the 1950s through the mid-1970s to pursue in-depth research on Soviet and Chinese internal politics and Sino-Soviet relations. The documents reflect the views of seasoned analysts who had followed closely their special areas of research and whose views were shaped in often heated debate.



the casahistoria Cold War sites:  
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Origins of the Cold War
Divided Germany, 1945-49
Korean War
Thaw to Cuban Missile Crisis

Space Race
Vietnam War
Prague'68, Ostpolitik, Detente and China
The End of the Cold War



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