The Space Race

This course will explore the people and events involved in the Space Race during the Cold War era. We will look at the impact of the Space Race on global competition. 

Space Race Origins

Wernher Von Braun

Wernher Von Braun

The Father of modern rocket science, Wernher Von Braun began his love of science, space and rockets from a young age. While participating in a model rocket launch, Von Braun was approached by Nazi recruiters and promised if he joined, he would not only find sufficient funding for his rockets, but the ability to continue to work on his theories of getting to the moon. 

Why become a Nazi?

   Top Nazi officials, under Hitler's regime, threatened to close all discussions of rocket science and research. These officials came to a rocket demonstration, and later approached Wernher Von Braun to join the Nazi party in order to continue his rocketry research. 

Nazi Days

Von Braun was given strict orders to work exclusively on weaponizing rocket technology. Disobeying orders, Von Braun continued to work on his space theories and kept important documents that would help him reach his goal of getting a man on the moon. 

Why hide?

When the weapon was used against the Allies, it became obvious the potential the rockets had as a weapon. Therefore, America and Russia began a frantic search to find Von Braun and utilize him for further development of weapons for themselves before the other country could find him. 

Who found him?

Wernher Von Braun went into hiding at the command of the Nazi leaders, but came out to surrender himself to the Americans after the end of the war. Von Braun felt the Americans would understand the importance of his research and give him the funding he needed to create rockets powerful enough to reach the moon.

Why did Von Braun join the Nazi party?

  • Von Braun believed in Hitler's message
  • Von Braun wanted to fund his research on rocket science to get to the moon
  • Von Braun was excited to build rockets as weapons

V2 Rockets

Vengeance Rockets Mark 2

Hitler saw the potential of rocket technology immediately and offered rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun nearly limitless funding to create a weaponized rocket. 

This top secret weapon was launched against London in August of 1944.

Potential of Rocket Science

When the Allies saw the devastation it caused in London, they also knew the potential of rocket technology, especially if linked with the atomic bomb.

What is the potential of rocket science that is so attractive to the U.S.?

  • The thought of discovering new knowledge about Science.
  • Beginning a new age of space discovery and exploration.
  • Adding nuclear technology to create a powerful destructive weapon.

The Brains Behind the Scenes

Comrade Chief Designer

Soviet Rocket Scientist

In their frustration of having been beat by the Americans in finding Werner Von Braun, the Soviets find their own Russian rocket scientist, Sergei Korolev, to begin work on a Soviet rocket program.

Prisoner of the Gulag

Sergei Korolev served 6 years in prison prior to his participating in this new rocket research. The government believed he was conspiring against the communist government. When the Soviets found they could not have Von Braun, Korolev was recommended as a suitable replacement by colleague and betrayer, Valentin Glushko.


Similar to Von Braun, Sergei Korolev found a love for science and rocketry at an early age, and he too wanted to send a man to the moon. Korolev soon discovered the identity of Von Braun after being released from prison and vowed to beat Von Braun to the moon. 

V2 Modifications

At the early stages of the new Russian rocket program, Korolev had to work with the confiscated information and V2 rocket models left by Von Braun in Peenemunde, Germany. Korolev did not have success with the V2 technology and had to make modifications of his own to gain continued support for the program. He eventually created a 2 step rocket, which launched successfully in 1948.

When the Russians failed to find Wernher von Braun, who did they choose to run their rocket program?

America's use of Von Braun

In the U.S.

The Americans eventually brought Wernher Von Braun to America. However, Von Braun was placed in military bases to hide him and his Nazi past from the American public.

Wasted in America

The government decided to work on attaching the atomic bomb to torpedoes, as it was a more trusted mode of shooting the atomic bomb than the unknown rocket. Von Braun spends several years doing nothing more than explaining his theories to Rotary Club members to gain support for his research.

Wasted Talent

Wernher Von Braun spent most of his early years in America in hiding and giving demonstrations to local Rotary Club members using model rockets to get funding for his research.

Von Braun in America

  • America funded the development of the atom bomb over Von Braun's rockets.
  • Wernher Von Braun was utilized to his fullest potential and his brilliance in rocket science.
  • Von Braun was sent to hide in military bases across the U.S.
  • Von Braun was reduced to explain his theories to Rotary Club members.
  • Von Braun wished he had remained in Germany.

The Space Race Begins


Korolev and the R7

Sergei Korolev was allowed to continue his research and created a rocket, the R7, that could successfully place a man made satellite into orbit in 1957.

The Race is On!

Russia now has the capability of firing an atomic bomb on the US from half way across the world.

Read more on the Space Race here.

Spyware or Transmitter?

Sputnik was nothing more than a round shiny ball with 4 antennas with a radio transmitter inside that beeped. The Russians wanted the American’s to see the satellite and hear the beeping to frighten them.

Space Race Music

Prepare yourself to create your own Space Age music using Garage Band and add it to your iMovie assignment.

What is the implication of the launch of Sputnik?

  • The Russians have better technology
  • The Russians can fire an ICBM and hit the U.S. from Russia.
  • The Russians can spy on the U.S. from space.
  • All of the above

America Responds

The Vanguard

The US Navy gets the green light to build a rocket to answer the threat of the Soviets space technology. The U.S. Navy build the Vanguard rocket, however, the Navy was in such a hurry that they made a lot of mistakes in its construction. The Vanguard is launched in the end of 1957; it rose 3 feet off the ground before falling back to Earth and exploding.

Explorer I

After the devastating disaster of the Vanguard explosion, the green light is given to Wernher Von Braun and his team to launch a rocket. The Explorer 1 rocket launches a satellite into Earth’s orbit on Jan. 31, 1958, which is higher than the low Earth orbit of Sputnik.

Rocket Scale Factor 

Before we can poke fun at the Vanguard for its complete and utter failure, we need to understand the magnitude of constructing a rocket of its size. The Vanguard rocket had a height of 72 ft. What would be the scale specifications of a model of the Vanguard rocket if the scale of a model man is one inch as compared to the average height of a man being 6 ft.? If a 6 ft. man is scaled down to be 1 in. tall on a graph. Solve the scale of the model Vanguard Rocket if the original Rocket was 72ft. 

Vanguard vs. Explorer I

  • The Vanguard was able to reach Earths orbit without the help of Von Braun.
  • The construction of the Vanguard rocket was sloppy and resulted in its explosion.
  • The Explorer I rocket keeps America in the Space Race as a competitor against the Soviets.

Russia Leads the Space Race Early

Russian Space Race Time Line

Animal Experimentation in Space

Both the Soviets and Americans used animal test subjects to gather data concerning space flight. Find data on why animals were used as well as the results of the experiments and how they affected the animals. Annotate your findings here.

What is the order of the Russian space victories?

  • Sputnik
  • Laika the dog
  • Luna 1 orbits the Sun
  • Luna 2 crashes on the Moon
  • Luna 3 Photographs the Moon
  • First man in space
  • First woman in space
  • First person to space walk

American Underdog Victory

American Achievements

American Victory

Global Competition Discussion

Utilize the Google Doc here to engage in the discussion board.

  • Birth of NASA
  • 37,000 Miles from the Moon
  • 1st American Spy Satellite
  • Alan Sheppard in Space
  • JFK Moon Challenge
  • Ed White
  • Moon Landing