Russia's pioneering days in space flight; what that meant for the US race for space

December 10, 2014 by Amy Patterson Neubert, Purdue University
''Rockets and Revolution: A Cultural History of Early Spaceflight''

The Soviet Union's early interest and competitiveness in the space race is something today's space exploration enthusiasts, private companies and organizations can learn from, says a Purdue University historian.

"The Soviet Union's intense rivalry with the United States was one reason the Soviets won the race to space with Sputnik," says Michael G. Smith, an associate professor of history. "In the 1920s and '30s, they watched and learned from the United States, while we were blind to their achievements. The United States was really not competing with them until the shock of Sputnik reached America. There is a lesson there for the present. No one power could ever have gotten into space alone; competition is what made it happen. Today, America is poised with to reach a new series of achievements in and space exploration, and it will be interesting to see what sparks the competition."

Smith is author of "Rockets and Revolution: A Cultural History of Early Spaceflight," which was published by University of Nebraska Press this month. In the book, he chronicles the early pioneering days of space exploration from 1903-1953. In 1935 the United States won the race to the stratosphere by using high-altitude balloons.

"Few Americans know about it, but the United States won that race with Explorer II, reaching more than 70,000 feet, or about 14 miles, high. No one had ever flown that high before," Smith says. "This was the prelude to the , but then World War II intervened and Americans forgot about the 1930s."

The Soviet Union did not forget, Smith says. In trying so long to catch up to the Americans, the Soviets then soared ahead with a number of firsts, including the first comprehensive surveys of spaceflight and creation of the first national rocket society.

Smith also looks at how was portrayed in science fiction and popular culture, as well as in politics and military programs.

Explore further: We must keep exploring space to answer the big questions humanity faces

More information: … volution,676007.aspx

Related Stories

China, US move toward cooperation in space

January 12, 2014

China—which until now has worked alone as it pursues an ambitious space program—seems more open to international cooperation, especially with the United States, European and American experts say.

Who owns space?

October 24, 2014

The golden age of planetary exploration had voyagers navigating new sea routes to uncharted territory. These territories were then claimed in the name of the monarchs who had financed the expeditions. All too frequently, ...

An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

October 30, 2014

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more to the International ...

Russian space memorabilia goes to auction

March 2, 2010

A spacesuit worn by cosmonaut Anatoli Artsebarsky, pieces of Soyuz shuttles that rocketed into space and a Mir Space Station control panel are among dozens of Soviet space program items for sale this month in Canada.

Recommended for you

Exploring planetary plasma environments from your laptop

June 15, 2018

A new database of plasma simulations, combined with observational data and powerful visualisation tools, is providing planetary scientists with an unprecedented way to explore some of the Solar System's most interesting plasma ...

NASA encounters the perfect storm for science

June 14, 2018

One of the thickest dust storms ever observed on Mars has been spreading for the past week and a half. The storm has caused NASA's Opportunity rover to suspend science operations, but also offers a window for four other spacecraft ...

The most distant radio galaxy discovered

June 14, 2018

An international team of astronomers has detected a new high-redshift radio galaxy (HzRG). The newly identified HzRG, designated TGSS1530, was found at a redshift of 5.72, meaning that it is the most distant radio galaxy ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.