World War 2 has utilized cutting edge technology to push limit of how to most effectively destroy the enemy. Although tanks, automatic weapons, aviation and artillery were used in previous military conflicts, they were greatly improved during the war. Ground, air, water were conquered mediums; only space remained out of reach. After remapping the new world after the war, two superpowers, capable of conquering the last remaining obstacle between man and the rest universe, were set to become the first ones to look down upon Earth in all its glory. This has become known as the Space Race between Soviet Union and the United States.
The ability to escape Earth’s atmosphere has become possible only after invention of rocket propulsion – which, actually, happened during the war. Military interest in rocket propulsion eventually resulted in first operational ballistic missiles built by the Nazi Germany. This was initially at attempt to circumvent the Treaty of Versailles', which banned long-range cannons. One of the German engineers recruited for the project, in fact, had other aspirations. Wernher von Braun, although he was the leader of the team which developed the V–2 ballistic missile for the Nazis, believed the true destiny of rocket science was much grander. He was later quoted as saying, with regards to rocket propulsion: “It will free man from his remaining chains, the chains of gravity which still tie him to this planet. It will open to him the gates of heaven.”
Interestingly, the potential of rocket propulsion as means of travel has been recognized long before. For example, in his 1862 book “God's Glory in the Heavens” Scottish clergyman and astronomer William Leitch wrote:
The rocket rises in the air, not from the resistance offered by the atmosphere to its fiery stream, but from the internal reaction. The velocity would, indeed, be greater in a vacuum than in the atmosphere, and could we dispense with the comfort of breathing air, we might, with such a machine, transcend the boundaries of our globe, and visit other orbs.
The rockets developed by Nazi Germany could not turn the tide of war – but the technology was seen as lucrative by the winners. This is why the war-time allies – notable, Soviet Union and United States – rushed to capture the rocket designs, rockets themselves and engineers who worked on these rockets. The V2 became the basis for the Soviet and American rocket ship development.
The importance of the Space Race was multi-factored. First, victory would be a symbolic ideological victory. Moreover, ability to send complicated devices into outer space would demonstrate technological superiority which could potentially be used to ensure national security. In a sense, the Space Race was a logical development of post-war tensions between the superpowers of the new world. And the first two legs of the race were won by the Soviet Union. October 4, 1957, the Sputnik 1 became the first man-made satellite. Less than four years later, April 12, 1961, soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in outer space.
On the eve of the Apollo-11 mission, Wernher von Braun said:
What we are seeking in tomorrow's trip is indeed that key to our future on earth. We are expanding the mind of man. We are extending this God-given brain and these God-given hands to their outermost limits and in so doing all mankind will benefit. All mankind will reap the harvest… What we will have attained when Neil Armstrong steps down upon the moon is a completely new step in the evolution of man.
The man who designed rockets for Nazi Germany did see it as a race against another country, or ideology – he saw this the next step of collective development of humanity.