Who will win in a space war

Space travel of the superpowers Race into space - the cold war in orbit

The story begins in the 1950s: the Soviet Union and the USA - still allies in World War II - faced each other as bitter enemies in the Cold War. With the help of German engineers, both superpowers are working on powerful long-range missiles that can also transport nuclear warheads in the event of war.

V2 inventor in American service

The Americans can fall back on the inventor of the first large space rocket, the German engineer Wernher von Braun, and his team. On behalf of the Wehrmacht, von Braun developed the A4 ballistic artillery missile - known by Nazi propaganda V2 ("Retaliation Weapon 2") - with which massive explosive charges weighing over 700 kilograms were fired on London and Antwerp from 1944 onwards .

Soviets rely on bigger missiles

The Soviets, on the other hand, only have a second set of German rocket engineers at their disposal. But these are people with a lot of practical experience. In addition, the USSR can already build on its own missile program from pre-war times. Sergei Korolev is the name of the man who runs it. At least as gifted an inventor and engineer as von Braun - and like von Braun, a space enthusiast. While the Americans are working on making their nuclear warheads lighter in order to adapt them to the carrying capacity of their missiles, Korolyov is going the opposite way. He just builds bigger, more powerful missiles.

Sputnik shocks America

The result was impressively felt by the world on October 4, 1957: With Sputnik 1, the Soviets put the first artificial earth satellite into orbit. The 80 kilogram ball with its short-wave transmitter causes the so-called Sputnik shock in the USA. "If the Soviets control the universe, then they can control the earth," commented the later US President John F. Kennedy the event. In fact, Sputnik 1 is showing the US that the Soviets now have an ICBM that they can use to hit any target in the US.

First living being in space

The race for supremacy in space and thus for the best launch vehicles has begun: The USA, which until then had split up its resources on various missile projects by the Army and Navy, responded in 1958 with the establishment of the civil space agency NASA. But they won't catch up with the Soviet Union's lead anytime soon. In the year of the first Sputnik shock, the second followed: in November 1957, the USSR launched the mixed-breed dog Laika, the first living being into orbit.

First flight to the moon

After all, the Americans succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit in the following year with Explorer 1. The solar-powered US satellite Vanguard 1 weighs only 14 kilograms, but it does so until 1970, while Sputnik 1 burns up in the atmosphere as early as 1958. This does not change the dominance of the Soviet Union in space: its rocket experts have long since set their sights on completely different spheres. In September 1959, Lunik 2, the first man-made missile, hit the lunar surface. A month later, Lunik 3 photographs the back of the moon.

First humans in space

And the next "big point" of the Soviets in the struggle for supremacy in space will follow soon: On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin, son of a carpenter and a farmer's wife, was the first person to orbit the earth in Vostok 1. In 1963, the USSR also sent Valentina Tereschkowa, the first woman into space. It stays at the top for three days and orbits the earth 48 times. In the same year, the Soviet Union also sent the first three-man crew into orbit. And of course it is a Russian, Alexei Leonow, who in 1965 was the first person to go on a "space walk" - 500 kilometers above the surface of the earth, mind you.

Systems competition

The lunar program of Soviet space travel is also constantly breaking new records: In 1966, Luna 9 was the first soft moon landing, i.e. the first undamaged landing of a missile on the lunar surface. Later Luna missions even bring lunar rocks back to Earth and use Lunochod to drop a robotic vehicle on the moon.

The struggle for supremacy in space is not just about military aspects, i.e. the development of ever stronger and more reliable ICBMs that can carry a particularly large number of nuclear warheads into enemy territory in the event of war. It has long been a matter of proving one's own technical superiority and thus the superiority of one's own social system.

Kennedy's ambitious plans

In the United States, at the beginning of the 1960s, it had long been known that the only way to make up for the gap to the Soviets was to land the first manned moon. In May 1961, shortly after the Russian Gagarin went into space, the young US President John F. Kennedy promised "to land a person on the moon and bring him safely back to earth." After all, a year later the USA managed to bring the first American into orbit, John Glenn. It circles the earth several times and returns after five hours. Ambitious projects followed, the culmination of which was the Apollo missions to the moon from 1967 onwards.

Americans fly to the moon

The Saturn rockets created for this purpose are among the most powerful space flight launch systems that have ever been built. Wernher von Braun and other German rocket engineers are heavily involved in its construction on behalf of NASA. In 1967 the first Saturn giant takes off on its maiden flight. Nine more Apollo test missions followed before the first Americans reached the moon with Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. The sentence of astronaut Neill Armstrong, who on July 20, 1969 was the first person to set foot on the satellite of the earth - "A small step for a person, but a huge leap for mankind" - goes down in history. Six more Apollo missions followed by 1972. After that, no one ever returns to the moon. The Americans celebrate their Apollo program as a victory in the space race.

The first space stations

The Soviets, of course, see it differently. And in fact, until then, they were always ahead of the game, only they didn't land on the moon. To do this, they increasingly turned to near-earth orbit in the 1970s. With "Salyut 1" they also succeed in putting the first space station into operation in 1971. The USSR thus sets another milestone in space, two years before the Americans followed suit with their Skylab program in 1973. The competition in orbit continues. But here of all places there is - in the middle of the Cold War - a first conciliatory gesture between representatives of the two superpowers. In July 1975, cosmonaut Alexej Leonow and his American colleague Thomas Stafford hug each other at an altitude of around 225 kilometers. For two days, their spaceships fly coupled to each other around the blue planet.

In orbit together

But 14 more years will pass before the Cold War ends on earth. Other milestones in space history follow. In 1981 the Americans sent the first space shuttle into space with the space shuttle "Columbia". During this time, the Soviet Union brought spacecraft to Venus and Mars and in 1986, the "Mir", the first permanently inhabited space station, went into operation. It will orbit the earth for 15 years. In 1995 there was the next handshake between now Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts. When the space shuttle "Atlantis" was the first to couple a space shuttle to a space station and the two crews were hugging each other, the Cold War in space came to a symbolic end.