The competition in the arms sector soon spread to the space sector as well. The Soviet Union successfully launched the first man-made satellite Sputnik, on October 4, 1957. This launch, which affected the US national security itself, was a big setback for the country. The US launched an artificial satellite the following year. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed on July 29, 1958, to intervene in the field of space. Later, the competition in space became fierce.
The Soviet Union once again demonstrated its prowess in space by landing the Luna 2 spacecraft on the Moon in 1959 and later went ahead with attempts to send humans into space. In the attempt to put humans in space, America started its Mercury Project. It was NASA’s inaugural human spaceflight programme. It provided the technological basis for the Gemini mission.
The Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into the Earth’s orbit in April 1961 in the Vostok-1 spacecraft, and thus Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. According to History.com, the following month, NASA sent an American named Alan Shepard into space.
US President John F. Kennedy, addressing the nation on May 25, 1961, said: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” After several attempts, on July 16, 1969, NASA launched Apollo 11 with three astronauts on board and landed the first man on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Rivalries in this arena continued until the end of the Cold War.
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13-day standoff between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side and the United States and its allies on the other, in October 1962. This was one of the main conflicts between the US and the Soviet Union. It was at this point that the world came close to a nuclear war, moving beyond the Cold War.
In 1958, an armed revolution in Cuba ousted the incumbent ruler, and a Communist government led by Fidel Castro came to power. After that, Cuba became closer to the Soviet Union. Since Cuba was an island nation close to it, the US feared the collapse of its hegemony in Latin America.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), America’s spy agency, hatched plans to oust Castro. According to History.com, as a part of this, the CIA trained dissidents (and also some organisations) who had left Cuba and settled in the United States. In 1961, the US tried to overthrow the Cuban government in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, but the attempt failed. Soviet leader Khrushchev declared that an American attack on Cuba would be prevented at any cost.
After the Bay of Pigs incident, Khrushchev proposed to Castro in May 1962, the idea of placing missiles in Cuba to deter future American attacks. Russia’s main agenda was to place missiles at a range that could target important US cities. Following a meeting of Khrushchev with Castro in July, it was decided that the Soviets would build military bases in Cuba. The Soviet army arrived in Cuba to build those bases.
As early as August 1962, the United States was aware of this construction going on in Cuba. On October 14, 1962, important pictures were caught on camera by the US. Those pictures were of SS4 missile batteries, and Ilyushin Il-28 bombers. CIA chief John McCone suspected that these missile launch pads may have been built by the Soviet Union to defend against the missiles that the United States had placed against Russia in Turkey and Italy. After these caught the US’s attention, the Cuban Missile Crisis, which lasted for 13 days, unfolded. The US decided to impose an embargo on Cuba.
In a letter to Kennedy on October 24, 1962, Khrushchev denounced the restriction of fair navigation through maritime and airspace as an act of aggression that would bring humanity to the brink of nuclear war.
On October 22, 1962, the nation was informed of the missiles being aimed at the United States. Soon after, a fleet led by the USS Newport News headed for Cuba. Fidel Castro declared that he was ready to face any threat. Soviet ruler Khrushchev warned that this embargo would lead to war between the two countries. The US explained that it was a ‘quarantine’ or blockade of Cuba to prevent further Soviet shipments of missiles. The United States demanded that no offensive weapons be allowed in Cuba, that all missile bases completed or under construction be dismantled, and that the weapons be returned to the Soviet Union. With little hope that the Soviet leadership would yield to these demands, the Kennedy administration foresaw the possibility of war.
In a letter to Kennedy on October 24, 1962, Khrushchev denounced the restriction of fair navigation through maritime and airspace as an act of aggression that would bring humanity to the brink of nuclear war. However, both nations sought a solution to the crisis in secret behind-the-scenes talks. As the negotiations progressed, tensions escalated as Soviet ships attempted to breach the blockade. The US Navy was instructed to fire on ships attempting to break the blockade after a warning.
On October 27, 1962, a Soviet missile team shot down an American U-2 aircraft, adding to the tension. However, both sides continued to negotiate.
On October 28, 1962, Kennedy and Khrushchev reached an agreement brokered by United Nations Secretary General U Thant, ending the crisis. The Soviet Union agreed that all offensive weapons stationed in Cuba would be removed to Russia under the supervision of the United Nations, and the United States also agreed that it would never attack Cuba. Thus, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended peacefully after 13 days of bringing the world to the edge of a nuclear war.
End of the Cold War
After 1945, the Cold War between the two power blocs of the world was evident in all the developments of that time. The waning of the Cold War began in the 1960s and 1970s with the collapse of the alliance between China and Russia.
During his time as the ruler of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to change the more authoritarian aspects of the Soviet government and sought to democratise it further.
Communist regimes in Eastern Europe began to collapse, and democratic governments came to power in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. East Germans and West Germans were reunited under the auspices of NATO. At the same time, Gorbachev’s reforms weakened the Soviet Communist Party, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the ongoing Cold War ended.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the capitalist ideology promoted by the United States gained worldwide prominence, and the United States has become a superior military and technological power.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
How would you describe the term "space race" to your students?
Can you think of the reasons that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children, and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others'.
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