The Space Race spanned from 1955-1975 and was essential to national security during the Cold War. The Soviet Union competed against the United States to achieve the upper hand in technology, particularly in Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Communication. Most notably, the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 used an ICBM that marked the official kick-off for the Space Race. The launch of Sputnik made America seem as if they were behind in research and development.
The Cold War was very much a war of ideas and the perception of power. Communism vs. Capitalism and, most importantly, which was worthy of taking over the world? Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were at the point where either country could launch into nuclear conflict at any time. Using ICBMs to launch spacecraft was a threat, veiled by the noble goal of scientific discovery, to all countries since there were no defenses against this type of weapon, which has to this day, the greatest range and speed out of any other missile.
At first, Sputnik created the impression that the Soviet Union was more prosperous and, therefore, communism was the better deal. However, the United States soon caught up, focusing on communication and weather satellites. These uses and clandestine uses for satellites are well known now, but the Space Race was the beginning of the domination of space flight.
A handshake in space between the countries symbolically ended the Space Race in 1975. As tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States waned and the goal of scientific discovery gained strength, the two countries built the platform for future cooperation toward space flight, such as the International Space Station.