The Space Race grew out of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the most powerful nations after World War II. For a half-century, the two superpowers competed for primacy in a global struggle for world influence.
The space age began on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union orbited Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite. On November 3, 1957 the Soviets launched Sputnik II. Included in the payload was a dog named Laika, the first living being sent into space. Initial American attempts to meet the Soviet challenge ended in failure, inciting widespread public agitation that the United States was falling behind in this new, crucial arena Cold War competition.
From this beginning, both countries raced into space. But the goal of this competition remained unclear. Before a watchful world, each side sought to demonstrate its superiority through impressive feats in rocketry and spaceflight. Secret satellites kept a wary eye on the adversary.
Not until 1961, when President John F. Kennedy called for a lunar journey by the end of the decade, did landing humans on the Moon become the focus of the space race.