Space Race – War Beyond The Karman Line

  • Imperialism and aggression in the 20th century culminated in victimizing the centrifugal retaliation which had gone beyond the Karman line.
  • The space race today is not just between 2 countries but among several rapidly growing nations like China, India, Japan, France etc.
  • The 20th-century world wars paved the way for outstanding innovations in space whereas the war in the 21st century is ending the space ties.


Humanity was astounded by the first cell discoveries in 1665. When Robert Hook unveiled the enigma of life, it was the first time we learned that entity of this species is embedded in cells and the same was merely reflected in the discoveries and innovations about space. Since evolution halted in Homo Sapiens, time suited itself as history to observe the raging domination of the finest beings on this planet progressively from adaptation to aggression. As time goes we draw our depletion line straight down as wars. However, these sets of events taught man that even in midst of chaos and competition there would be always a sprout of opportunity for the advancement of ideas and technologies. Wars are dreadful, the tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best to do man’s worst but when time flipped its side war paved the way to great achievements. Precisely the cold war period.

Cold War

The geopolitical tension existed between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies following the Second World War known as the cold war.1 Which lasted roughly from 1945 to 1975. During the cold war, the Soviet Union and the United States avoid direct military confrontation and instead fought proxy wars to repel or advance communism respectively.  Some of the major events of the cold war included the containment of Russia, the arms race between the United States and Russia, the falling of the berlin wall, the development of the hydrogen bomb and the space race. 

The Space Race – A 20th-Century Retaliation

The friction that existed between superior powers of eastern and western war fronts which was initiated by imperialism and national aggression was intended to culminate in warfare but the 20th century victimised the centrifugal retaliation which had gone beyond the Karman line. As far as history goes, the spirit of powers always sought to ace the game. Within the advancement in the spectrum of economics, infrastructure, science and technology they even took the game to an even wider horizon-the space. Hence the tension that existed between US capitalism and Soviet Union’s communism had exponentially elevated the space race. Sought to prove superiority in the extension of the political-economic system. Cementing the superiority in space initiated with the launch of the first artificial satellite.

The Beginning

The United States first planned the venture in 1954 but on 2nd august 1995 USSR responds to this announcement that they intend to launch the first artificial satellite.2 On October 4, 1954, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile with the first artificial satellite and man-made object to be placed in the earth’s orbit – Sputnik 1. Sputnik even created a panic alert in western powers and it propagated all around the US which is called the sputnik crisis.

“Sputnik was a humiliating defeat for the United States – perhaps the darkest hour of the cold war“   

– Philip Taubman

Soviet enthusiastically reflected their advancement in technologies and an upper hand in space again by launching Sputnik 2 on November 3 1957 carrying a dog called Laika. On 1958 October 1 united states launched the legit space station National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA.

The space rise withstood about 20 years but it had a significant impact on history and technology. Because the launching of artificial satellites reminded humanity that we are not just confined in this sphere. Therefore, the urge to prove oneself spread beyond Eisenhower and Korolev to all the citizens who lived in both states, direct this is thoroughly reflected in the articles covered by the US reaction to sputnik and the soviets addressing NASA.

On 31st December 1958 when the US launched Score while the Soviet Union launched Luna 1 on 2 January 1959 the first cosmic rocket. On 2nd august 1959 US launched the first weather satellite. On 12th September 1959, the Soviets launched the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the Earth. Then sagas of the luna series project beyond earth’s orbit to the moon. A remarkable achievement in space happened on 1961 April 12 when the Soviets launched the first human – Yuri Gagarin into earth’s orbit, just after one year gap;  on February 20, 1962, the US landed the first American John Glenn in orbit. Soviet Union’s 3 Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on 1963 June 19. In 1964 the projects expanded from multi-person craft programmes to the American space walk. The deadliest the year 1967 also passed with accomplishments and losses when the soviets headed with Soyuz America begin their Apollo missions. In 1968 Apollo 8 became the first human-crewed spacecraft to reach the moon.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, this single event made the US achieve the greatest technological achievement in human history. 

“This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”

-Neil Armstrong

Still, the Soviets followed the first with many ones, but when the US landed a man on the moon that was 6a sharp throws ahead of all pioneering milestones.

The End of 20th Century Space Race 

War race propagated through both the chronicles of triumphs and catastrophic events.

In 1975 American commander Tom Stafford and Soviets Andalaxi Lenov exchanged the historical handshake exchanged between Soyuz and Apollo thoroughly ending the space race that lasted over 20 years. The end of the cold war in 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union made the heart of soviet assets in space innovations passed down to Russia. From here the international space station and the MIR shuttle program began.

21st Century Space Race

When cold war acted as a catalyst for the enhancement of science and technology which also made man imprint historical moves in space. From the beginning of the 21st century, space became a new medium of application of science and technology.4 The mere inversion of what happened in the 20th century. The space race today is not just between 2 countries but among several rapidly growing nations like China, India, Japan, France etc. Today earth-orbit space economy is dominated by the international space station (ISS) – a coalition of the United States, Russia, Europe and many other partner countries. As well as satellites focus on surveillance, weather or climate monitoring and telecommunications.

Asian countries like China, India, and Japan have already contributed a handful of innovations to space. China’s Chang zheng for military and civilian purposes. India’s PSLV’s best-known mission was successfully sending Chandrayyan 1 (mission to the moon) Japan also delivered HTV cargo spacecraft for the ISS. Since 2000 many programmes have been initiated, succeeded and failed which reflected the vague of humanity to extend their dominance beyond earth. The first spacecraft to orbit and land on an asteroid, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, the first spacecraft to return to earth with samples from an asteroid, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, to orbit a comet, the first space mission to mars etc…were some of the remarkable achievements in the history of space.

Impact of the Russia-Ukraine War

As far as the achievements go down- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 2022 has created enormous tensions between the Russian space agency and its partners. The Soyuz at the Guiana space centre programmes has been suspended, several Soyuz launches have been cancelled, Russian space agency removed flags of the US and Japan from space rockets…all these events specifically point to the isolation of Russia and perpendicularly affecting the life of international space station which had served as a bridge between cultures and unity since the 1990s. The only difference is that the 20th-century world war paved the way for outstanding innovations in space whereas the war in the 21st century is ending the space ties.


The cold war ended but the cold survived”. The scorching history of revenge helped humanity to cement our existence once again in this world. In the era of colonization, wars, the post-war period, and economic depressions…everything was passed over one another within a short span of time. But all the unfortunate outcomes elevated us into something better, made us more capable to strive and thrive in this world, armed us to be able to defend ourselves, empowered our immunity, and expanded our horizon from the boundaries of the earth to infinity. We owe a debt of gratitude that we ought to repay to all the previous souls who laboured to open the new door. From Konstantin Tsiolkovsky to all the leaders, scientists, forces and martyrs. Wars refracted many morals away but the cold war logistically uplifted the capabilities of this species beyond the Karman line.

“It would seem to me that by the time a race has achieved deep space capability it would have matured to a point where it would have no thought of dominating another intelligent species.”

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

(Hanna Sunny is a Research Student at the Department of International Relations, Peace & Public Policy (IRP&PP), St. Joseph’s University, Bengaluru, Karnataka)


  1. Cold War | Summary, Causes, History, Years, Timeline, & Facts. (2022, August 23). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from
  2. Milestones: 1953–1960. (n.d.). Milestones: 1953–1960 – Office of the Historian. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from
  3. Betz, E. (2020, July 21). Apollo-Soyuz Mission: When the Space Race Ended. Astronomy Magazine. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from
  4. Countries with Space Programs 2022. (n.d.). World Population Review. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from
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