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Space Race: Cold War Fuels Race to the Moon
After World War II (1939–45) ended in 1945, a conflict known as the Cold War started between the United States and the Soviet Union for global influence. One of the most visible components of the Cold War was the “space race”—the effort to explore outer space and land a man on the moon. In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, and in April 1961, they sent the first person into space. In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy (1961–63) pledged that the United States would surpass the Soviets in space exploration and land a man on the moon before the decade was over. Supporters of the effort argued that it was imperative to win the space race, both to maintain the United States’ position as a world leader and to keep the Soviets from using space for hostile purposes. Opponents of the effort, however, argued that sending a man to the moon was both expensive and unnecessary and that the billions of dollars it would cost could be better spent on fighting problems on Earth, such as poverty and disease.
Let your students get the facts and decide for themselves: Should the U.S. government focus on becoming the first country to send a man to the moon? Or should it focus on more pressing problems here on Earth? Be sure to check out Issues & Controversies in American History’s clear and unbiased examination of the space race this month.
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