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Military Origins of the Space Race

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The V-2 Missile
The Corporal Missile
The Ultimate Weapon
The Ultimate Weapon
Launching the Space Age
The Scout Program


Today's ICBMs reportedly can strike within a few hundred feet of their targets after traveling thousands of miles through space. Such accuracy makes it possible to use a less powerful warhead, yet still be assured of destroying a target. A single missile can also carry multiple warheads, each aimed at a different target. A Minuteman III could have 3 nuclear warheads, as shown here; the Peacekeeper MX had 10.

Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory

Minuteman III warhead
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CN80-4964 Los Alamos


By the 1970s multiple warheads and improved missile accuracy caused growing concern about a "first strike" that would destroy one side's missiles and bombers before they could be used to strike back. Both sides feared that a crisis might escalate into such a decisive attack. This threat caused a huge growth in the number of Soviet and American missiles and later led to arms limitation treaties. With the end of the Cold War, single warheads are replacing multiple ones, and nuclear arsenals are being reduced.
Line Art of missile sizes, both US and USSR
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Pointer Two intermediate-range nuclear missiles--a Soviet SS-20 and a U.S. Pershing II--now banned by treaty are displayed in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in the center of the Museum.
SS2 and Pershing II in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall
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