Saturday, March 6, 2010

Important People related to the Arms and Space Race

The nuclear arms race between USSR and USA intensified during the Cold War where both countries devoted many resources to developing nuclear weapons. It was a race for supremacy in nuclear warfare during the Cold War. The first nuclear weapons were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US in 1945. There were a few people who played an important role in the development of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War.

John F. Kennedy the 35th president of the US (in office from 1961-1963) during the Cold War is definitely deeply involved in the arms race. In 1961 he announced a program to build nuclear shelters and pamphlets were distributed on how to survive a nuclear war. He deeply believed that a nuclear war should be prevented at all costs and often made comments on the possible catastrophe nuclear weapons can be cause. In a report to the American people on the Berlin Crisis in July 1961, he said: “In the thermonuclear age, any misjudgment on either side about the intentions of the other could rain more devastation in several hours than has been wrought in all the wars of humanity”. He came up with the Disarmament Program which includes essential proposals such as, the signing of the test-ban treaty by all nations, destruction of the existing nuclear weapons and the prohibiting of transfer of control of nuclear weapons to countries that do not own them. The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was finally signed on the August 5, 1963 by the US, USSR, and the United Kingdom. In fact Kennedy has been fighting for a ban on nuclear testing since 1956. He saw the banning as the first step to nuclear disarmament. After the Cuban Missile Crisis both the USSR and US realized how close they came to starting a nuclear war which could have wiped out most of mankind. Kennedy called for an end to the Cold War and after 12 days of negotiations with USSR both states decided to sign the test ban treaty.

Nikita Khrushchev was president of the USSR from 1953-1964. His popularity decreased with his flawed policies and was removed from the presidential seat. Khrushchev was deeply involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis which almost resulted in a nuclear war between US and USSR. He ordered missile launchers to be installed in Cuba secretly until the US got hold of the information and decided to take action. Several days of high tension occurred when negotiations were held between both countries on what to do. Khrushchev ended up making a compromise and removed the weapons from Cuba. This move might have saved the world from being destroyed by the massive destruction the nuclear weapons are capable of. Khrushchev aimed to surpass US in terms of weapons production.

Klaus Emil Julius Fuchs made significant contribution to the development of nuclear weapons. He was a talented theoretical physicist and was responsible for several works relating to the early generation of Hydrogen bombs. He was widely known as an atomic spy who betrayed the US and aided the USSR. He passed on atomic research information from the US to the USSR during and after WWII. He was part of the team working on the Manhattan Project (the project which created the first nuclear bombs), and delivered drawings of the atomic bomb, Fat Man, to his Soviet courier, Harry Gold.

Edward Teller was an American theoretical physicist, and more often known as ‘the Father of Hydrogen bombs’. He strongly supported Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. The Strategic Defense Initiative was a plan to use ground and space-based defense to prevent attacks on US by nuclear missiles. It was set up in 1984. He and his team invented the Hydrogen bomb (first picture from the left) in 1951, an important accomplishment especially since the Soviets were also developing their own hydrogen bomb.

J. Robert Oppenheimer
was also a theoretical physicist and famously known as the director of the Manhattan Project which both Edward Teller and Klaus Fuchs was part of. He was part of
the group that created the “gun-assembly” prototype, which was the world’s first atomic bomb, and which afterwards was used on Nagasaki. Before he died he shared his feelings about the work he had done: “I have no remorse about the making of the bomb and Trinity [the first test of an atomic bomb]. That was done right. As for how we used it, I understand why it happened and appreciate with what nobility those men with whom I'd worked made their decision. But I do not have the feeling that it was done right. The ultimatum to Japan
was full of pious platitudes. ...our government should have acted with more foresight and clarity in telling the world and Japan what the bomb meant”.

Richard Nixon the 37th president of the US, could be said as the starting point of the d├ętente for the nuclear arms race. On the day Nixon got inaugurated (20th January 1969), USSR government offered negotiations on issues regarding nuclear arms control. Negotiations were then held which were more commonly known as Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). To a certain extent SALT achieved success in limiting nuclear arms. The SALT I treaty signed froze the number of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles but allowed replacement of old missiles with new ones. Through this agreement, the thawing of the Cold War began when both states decided that it was meaningless to continue the never ending nuclear arms race.

The space race was a technological war between the USSR and US which contributed to the heightening of tension during the Cold War. It was also a race for supremacy in space technology.

Wernher Von Braun was one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology. He was most notably known for his achievement in creating the Saturn V booster rocket that helped land Neil Armstrong and his team on the Moon. This rocket could be said as the answer to the boosters created by USSR. He was also instrumental in developing the first American satellite, Explorer I. He was also the director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, afterwards further developing space launch vehicles. He suggested boosting a capsule with a passenger into space for a short flight and managed to accomplish it in 1961 by using one of his productions, Redstone. Von Braun’s most significant achievement was to be able to beat USSR in being the first country to place men on Moon.

Sergei Korolev was a prominent Russian figure in the development of Russian space technology. He was a rocket scientist, and like Van Braun, was significant in Russia’s foundation of space program. At the beginning of the space race, USSR was leading with the development of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. Sputnik I proved that not only US are capable of advanced technology and was the main trigger for the space race. Korolev took part in the designing of the rocket (modified Soviet Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) of Sputnik I, and the rocket became the most wide used rocket in the world. The next significant achievement was Luna 3 , a probe capable of photographing and radioing messages back to Earth while orbiting the Moon. It was known to have bolstered USSR prestige throughout the world. Probably one of his most important contributions to the space race was the designing of Vostok the first manned spacecraft which successfully sent Yuri Gagarin (the guy on Time magazine cover) into space. Luna 9 was his next creation that managed to land safely on Moon and sent back images showing that deep layers of lunar dust did not exist on the Moon allowing future manned flights to take place. He was regarded as a founding father of the Russian space program and was responsible for leaving behind many other trained scientists.

John F. Kennedy the president of the US from 1961-1963 was the guy who set the goal of placing men on the moon within the decade. He was enthusiastic about making US the top in terms of space technology after being elected as president. He did not want US to be behind USSR in the space race, and after seeing Yuri Gagarin successfully becoming the first man to encircle Earth Kennedy was determined to beat USSR in being the first country to place men on the Moon. Unfortunately, while holding campaigns in an attempt to prevent the slashing of NASA’s budget by the Congress, he was assassinated in Dallas and failed to see Neil Armstrong (picture on the left) become the first man on the Moon. “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project...will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important...and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish....”

Richard Nixon the 37th President of the US might not have ambitions as great as those of John F. Kennedy in terms of space technology. However in his presidential years, he saw through much space technology development including all US Project Apollo moon landings. He was also the one who gave approval to the NASA Space Shuttle Program which was said to have greatly influenced American efforts to explore space decades after. The most significant contribution Nixon made was probably the decision to approve the first joint US-USSR space program. This joint effort was called the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. It greatly reduced tension of the space race between the two states, putting an end to the intensive space race between both states.


  1. While the timeline is informative, it should have been made more useful with some visual illustrations to enhance the learning of some of these developments. A timeline for information sake is commonly associated with a very mundane way of learning history ): You can still add on some relevant illustrations by today.

  2. This post on some of the leaders involved is commendable though. Quite original in linking up this section to the Cold War Arms and Space Race.

  3. What about the astronauts that helped to discover certain things?