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Cornell University

The Cold War: Space Race

Joseph Lee

STS 1117

Professor Kline

November 3, 2016
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“One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind,” as described by the prominent

astronaut Neil Armstrong, summarizes the technological advancements during the Cold War.

Despite competing against each other for superior technology, the US and the Soviet Union both

accomplished more than they could have dreamed of. They both strived to concentrate on

science and technology by going through a period of “big science” in which they increased the

number scientists, increased funding, and increased exposure to sciences in education. As a

result, both countries were able to develop new satellites and other government programs that

aided in creating an array of space equipment utilized today. In order reveal a more holistic view,

Asif Siddiqi in “Fighting Each Other” discusses the secretive, Soviet N-1 program aimed to send

cosmonauts to the moon while Rebecca Slayton in “Speaking as Scientists” discusses the

continued pursuit of both countries in creating military weapons despite the peace treaty. Both

historians give us a new perspective that Wolfe did not touch upon and therefore change our

perception of the space race.

Wolfe describes her perspective of the Cold War through her eyes as an American

historian. Therefore, she focused more on the technical aspects of American achievement while

adding background information about the competition against the Soviets. She lucidly described

the psychological toll launching Sputnik in 1957 had on America and how America responded by

sending a man to the moon. However, she did not mention that the Soviets tried to counter this

American accomplishment with their secretive N-1 program. This program was a clandestine

project run by the government in order to find innovative techniques of sending cosmonauts to

the moon. This project was so covert that many people did not know that the program existed

and eventually ended with rocket explosions. At this time, many scientists were given

jurisdiction by the government to create the best method of sending a rocket to space, aiming to

put themselves back into the race. Although the project failed, Wolfe failed to even mention the

existence of this project. On the other hand, not all projects created by the Soviets were solely
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military focused projects. Siddiqi states “in other words, science and technology had to both

serve and represent the nation” 1 in order to express that, other projects such as the Moscow

Metro, the Dneprostroi Dam, and the trans-Siberian railroad were all developed to serve the

citizens of the nation. Despite this new insight, Siddiqi also enriches Wolfe’s argument that the

Soviets developed a “more aggressive use of space technologies,”2 such as the N-1 program. The

Soviets were so heavily focused on technological development that 87% of its R&D budget was

directed to military needs and 13% was dedicated to education, according to Siddiqi. Although

Wolfe does not discuss the process of developing the rockets, Siddiqi paints a clear picture of the

competition and conflicts involved in creating the model rocket for the Soviets. First off, Siddiqi

says that conflicting tensions between civilian and military imperatives, science and engineering,

fundamental and applied science, and displaying value and maintaining secrecy hindered

completion of the project. Arguments ensuing among the different groups of scientists delayed

progress and put them further behind the Americans. The scientists working on the project were

unable to concede to each other because they believe they had superior intelligence compared to

each other. Seeing this, Khrushchev called for “more intense efforts to develop space projects to

respond to what he saw as ambitious American plans,”3 indicating that developing technology

more effectively was their sole goal. The Soviets were quickly developing new rockets and

technology along with the Americans, although the Soviet projects were kept secret. Hence, the

Soviets continued to develop projects that balanced the military and civilian needs. They tried to

surpass the Americans and continued to show their scientific zeal.

1 Siddiqi, Asif. "Fighting Each Other: The N-1, Soviet Big Science, and the Cold War at Home." Science and Technology in the
Global Cold War. Ed. Naomi Oreskes and John Krige. MIT, 2014. 189-226. Web
2 Audra J. Wolfe, Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns

Hopkins University Press, 2013)

3 Siddiqi, Asif. "Fighting Each Other: The N-1, Soviet Big Science, and the Cold War at Home." Science and Technology in the

Global Cold War. Ed. Naomi Oreskes and John Krige. MIT, 2014. 189-226. Web
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Slayton also provides a fresh account as well as more adds additional evidence pertaining

to Wolfe’s argument about the American space program. Wolfe stated that both the US and the

Soviet Union agreed to prohibit weapons from entering space through the Partial Ban Treaty of

1963. They believed weapons in space were unnecessary and would only heighten the dangers of

nuclear war. However, Slayton describes how America, in the 1980s, continued to develop a

defense program that would protect itself against the massive Soviet nuclear arsenal and make it

“impotent and obsolete” 4. This statement proved that America wanted to create a weapon to

defend itself from another weapon despite signing the Partial Ban Treaty. Wolfe stated that even

as the US and the Soviet Union embraced international cooperation, both nations became more

aggressive in technological developments. This created more competition and a need for more

scientists, funding, and interdisciplinary cooperation. For example, America continued to

develop its space program through the incredibly intricate computer coding and the in-depth

analysis of an accurate physical model of the rocket. In addition, this example bolsters Wolfe’s

argument that the space program provided tens of thousands of jobs to engineers and the work

required a tremendous amount of collaboration and effort. Both Wolfe and Slayton agree that the

degree of difficulty and complexity of this project was unprecedented. The puzzle of

harmonizing the proper code, equipment, tanks, and people to execute this project flawlessly was

incredibly difficult. This complex space project would be so difficult to accomplish that some

scientists rendered it “impossible”. However, with the right minds and cooperation, America

created progress to protect its people from the Soviets. To sum up, Slayton described the

continuing progress of America’s space program and how despite the Partial Ban Treaty, both

countries rigorously continued to advance space technology. Slayton provided additional

4 Slayton, Rebecca. Speaking as Scientists: Computer Professionals in the Star Wars Debate. History & Technology, 2003, Vol.
99:4, p. 335-364
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information that Wolfe failed to mention and allowed the reader to obtain a more holistic view of

the space race.

In conclusion, the age of exploration in space allowed both the US and the Soviet Union

to grow a deeper hunger for space technology. Slayton and Siddiqi provided additional

information that changed Wolfe’s perspective about the space race while also elaborating on her

points of job creation and a more aggressive Soviet approach to science. Siddiqi opened our eyes

to the N-1 space program that focused on sending cosmonauts to the moon while Slayton

discussed the more aggressive Soviet approach to science and the not so peaceful peace treaty

signed by both countries. Through these various accounts, we discover a new vantage point in

our view of the space race. They allow us to see more than Wolfe’s American perspective and

give the reader a balanced view of the race. As we continue from this point on, both countries

continue to value scientists’ judgments in their efforts to advance in science and technology.