After the Second World War, another conflict was quick to develop: a war of ideologies between the capitalist West and the communist East. Since the Russian Civil War, it was clear that the United States was opposed to Bolshevism. Equally, the Soviet Union preached worldwide revolution. In the course of this cold war, both sides would seek the technological power to observe and ultimately eradicate the opposing system of society. These technological desires manifested themselves in the aerospace technology of the 1950's and onward: spy planes such as the U2, spy satellites, strategic bombers like the American B-52 and the Soviet Bison, and ballistic missiles such as the American Titan and the Soviet R7. Additionally, in a further attempt to prove the superiority of one power's ideology over the other's, manned space exploration served as a tool of propaganda: from Yuri Gagarin to the Apollo program.

Prior to the era of spy satellites, or any satellites at all, was the time of spy planes: compilations of titanium, steel, and reinforced glass. The first aircraft designed specifically for high altitude aerial reconnaissance was the U2. Now eclipsed in fame by a band of the same name, the U2 was developed in the 1950's by Lockheed under contract from the CIA. Development took place at Lockheed headquarters in Burbank, California. Production occurred at the highly secure, secret facility dubbed "Skunk Works" in Groom Lake, Nevada. This infamous development and testing area for secret aircraft now bears the designation Area 51.

The U2 was a single seat aircraft with a wingspan of 80 feet. The original version flew at 85 000 feet with a range of 3000 miles. This enabled it to evade Soviet defenses, namely interceptors and surface-to-air-missiles, while retaining the capacity to fly from Western nations. The photographic equipment aboard the U2 was sophisticated enough to be able to discern a golf ball from the green at 85 000 feet. On July 1st, 1956 the U2 made its first flyover of the Soviet Union, photographing Moscow, Leningrad, and the Baltic Coast. This was the first of at least twenty flights. Hoping to create a statute allowing surveillance over-flights of the Soviet Union under international law, President Eisenhower met with Great Britain, France, and the USSR in 1955 to discuss an 'open skies proposal'. This proposal would allow the US and the USSR to continuously inspect one another's military installations by air. While popular in world opinion, the proposal was rejected by the USSR.

On the first of May 1960, a U2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. The plane and the pilot were both captured. The political fallout of the incident was disastrous. Premier Khrushchev cancelled plans to attend the Paris Peace Conference.

Despite this misadventure, the U2 continued to be used, though never again over the Soviet Union. It was through U2 over-flights of Cuba that the placement of IRBM's (intermediate range ballistic missiles) was detected there and the Cuban Missile Crisis was instigated. One such flight over Cuba ended in disaster, when a Soviet SAM (surface-to-air missile) downed a U2 on October 27th, 1962.

US aerial photography over the nation of Cuba in October 1962 showed a frightening array of Soviet weaponry being stationed there: SAM sites, strategic bombers, and launching sites for IRBM’s. Essentially, these forces were equivalent to American bases in Turkey, threatening the Soviet Union. The strain reached a climax when Soviet air defenses managed to shoot down a U2 over Cuba. Kennedy responded to the buildup with a naval blockade, deflecting those who suggested a full-out attack on Cuba. After tense communications between Kennedy and Khrushchev, in the form of letters, it was agreed that the blockade would be lifted and the weapons removed. This incident showed both nations how close nuclear war could be, and in so doing created increased caution in both nations. A hotline was also established between Washington and Moscow to expedite emergency communication between the leaders.

This was the second U2 disabled by Soviet anti-aircraft technology. 1962 had not been a good year for the U2, with a third being shot down over the Chinese mainland on September 9th. (Relates to 2001 EP-3 situation in the South China Sea)

After this year of failures, the U2 was officially recognized to have lost its former invincibility of altitude. The same missile programs that U2's had been used to observe had finally developed a SAM capable of downing a U2. Additionally, spy satellites like the Discoverer and Corona series' were eclipsing spy planes for espionage.

In 1957 the U2 spy plane made an over-flight of a R-7 launching facility in the Soviet Union; that same year, on October 4th, a Russian R-7 ICBM carried the first manmade satellite to orbit. The 184-pound capsule, equipped only with a radio transmitted and four antennas, was enough to precipitate terror in the West that communism may actually be superior. This Prosteyshiy Sputnik (Simplest Satellite) humbled the United States. American space efforts were redoubled as a result.

Behind the hype and propaganda, Sputnik was deceptive. It was launched on the R-7, the only significant Russianmissile at the time. The R-7 was liquid fueled and based primarily upon the V-2. At this time, the United States had a multitude of missiles underway: the Atlas and the Titan, true ICBM's (liquid fueled and still partly in the experimental stage); and the Redstone, Thor, and Jupiter (liquid fueled modified V-2's of the IRBM class). America had superior fuels, superior engines, and superior guidance. These trends would continue throughout the arms race with the USA developing increasingly precise (and smaller) weapons while the USSR overcame large CEP (circular error of probability) with coincidingly larger yields.

Continuing in their quest to build nationalistic pride within the Soviet Union, the USSR launched Sputnik II: a larger satellite containing the dog Laika. This was the first living creature to travel into space, and die there. Laika made her flight on the 3rd of November 1957 atop an R-7 rocket. Despite the continued public opinion of Russian superiority in space, their missiles continued to lag behind the US. The missile gap did exist, but in favour of the United States. The failure of the Soviet Union to construct an effective ICBM force before the Americans led to the placement of IRBM's in Cuba and, consequently, the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Liquid fueled missiles dominated rocketry from when Goddard constructed the first one in his backyard workshop. Fuels were held either in compressed tanks or pumped into a combustion chamber, ignited, and used to generate thrust. In order to accomplish this, the fuels must be volatile. These fuels could not be safely stored inside the missiles thus missiles had to be fueled just prior to launch: a lengthy process taking between 15 minutes, for an Atlas or Titan, to a full half hour for an R-7. A small asphalt company in the United States changed that through the quasi-accidental development of an effective solid fuel. This allowed the development of increasingly devastating weapons that could be deployed more quickly. Solid fuels could be stored aboard the rocket and allowed for immediate launch. The first weapons to exploit this were the US Minuteman and Polaris missiles. The Minuteman was a silo-launched intercontinental ballistic missile while the Polaris was launched from a mobile submarine force. True to its name, the Minuteman could launch in under a minute's preparation.

Eventually, the Soviet Union developed their own solid fuels, though they never trusted or relied on them as much as the Americans. Now that the gap between an American or Russian decision to launch a strike and the completion of that strike was 30 minutes, the two superpowers progressed to the development of even deadlier weapons. Multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRV's) were the next generation of ballistic missiles. They delivered a stage called a bus into orbit. This, in turn, fired multiple warheads on independent re-entry trajectories. Thus, one missile could do the work of many. Three, then five, then eight, and reaching into the dozens of warheads, MIRV's became more and more capable weapons.

Ultimately, both superpowers possessed a nuclear arsenal capable of scouring the surface of the Earth of life. From Atlases and R-7's to the Minuteman and Polaris III's, the combined nuclear arsenals of NATO and the Warsaw Pact allowed for only one policy of "defense." Since no effective defense exists against ballistic missiles, despite the attempts of Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, the only way to effectively deter a nuclear attack is to offer the certainty of nuclear retaliation. This policy, called Mutual Assured Destruction, represents the inherent madness of the Cold War. The rift of ideologies was so deep that either side was willing to eradicate all life on earth rather than surrender. Granted, this policy served to prevent nuclear war rather than promote it, but regardless it demonstrated a massively sadistic and reckless attitude.

The need for assured retaliation partly drove the bilateral acquisition of huge nuclear arsenals. Also involved, on each side, was a perceived missile gap. While Soviet information remains classified, it is now known that U2 over-flights had revealed the figures for missiles and bombers released to the public were grossly exaggerated. The military seized the chance to capitalize on feelings of inadequacy, while those who would oppose this unnecessary buildup could not admit to the covert surveillance that reveal the falsity of the gaps.

Beyond propaganda, satellites had one very important military purpose: surveillance. The original aim of the US satellite program, directed by Wernher Von Braun, was to construct and deploy such a satellite. Their initial plans were incredibly optimistic, calling for an eighty-man orbital observation platform that was to be launched in one piece. Eventually, automation and the difficulty of launching such a titanic satellite favored smaller, automated devices.

The first satellites capable of photographing the surface of the Earth were the American Discoverer satellites. The Discoverer craft relied on a system by which exposed film was returned to Earth in a capsule. Amidst launch and mechanical failures, these capsules initially proved very difficult to find. Embarrassingly, the capsule from Discoverer 2 was actually recovered by Russian forces in Norway. From Discover 14 onwards the satellites consistently returned useful images. After the U2 incident in 1960, satellites became the backbone of American surveillance of the Soviet Union. Ultimately, the success of the Discoverer program was in learning important lessons for the more strategically useful Corona program. The [Corona[ program was a logical extension of the Discoverer program. After Discoverer 38, a new camera was introduced, the KH-4. This new system allowed for the production of three-dimensional stereoscopic images. Corona satellites tracked the development and deployment of numerous Soviet weapons including submarines, ballistic missiles, and SAM’s. Accurate target information from Corona surveillance allowed the United States to effectively direct its force of ICBM’s. For those in power, the bomber and missile gaps were exposed as frauds. In 1967, LBJ said this of the space program:

“I wouldn’t want to be quoted on this. We’ve spent $35 or $40 billion on the space program. And if nothing else had come out of it except the knowledge that we gained from space photography, it would be worth ten times what the whole program has cost. Because tonight we know how many missiles the enemy has and, it turned out, our guesses were way off. We were doing things we didn’t need to do. We were building things we didn’t need to build. We were harboring fears we didn’t need to harbor.”
For the remainder of the cold war, and into the present day, orbital surveillance satellites would play a key role in the intelligence system of any nation with the wealth and technological skill to employ them.

While the wartime applications of space were rocketing forward, the secrecy that surrounded them prevented them from being as effective an agent of propaganda as they could otherwise be. Both superpowers realized this. It was largely for this reason that Sputnik was a militarily innocuous satellite: so that they could tell the world about it. Beyond Sputnik, manned space-flight represented the ultimate possibility to show to the citizens of both superpowers, and to the world in general, the space-faring acumen of a nation.

The Soviet Union was the first to concentrate on this type of demonstration. While the United States was developing covert surveillance satellites, whose existence could not be revealed, the Soviets put a radio beacon in the sky. While the United States was strengthening its nuclear arsenal on land and under the sea, the Soviet Union put a man in space. This was perhaps the only area in the Cold War where a veritable gap existed in favour of the Soviet Union. Kennedy was fairly quick to realize this, and remarkably quick to one-up the Soviet Union. The vehicle by which this was accomplished was the Apollo program. The Apollo program rivals anything to date in terms of material and human expenditures in the achievement of a public works project. While the success of the Apollo program yielded relatively little benefit to the scientific community, it can be cited as the prime example of the superiority of the United States over the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. The fact that this claim can be made at all demonstrates how well suited manned flight is to the attention of the world. A mission with no real tactical or strategic purpose had a much firmer impression upon minds worldwide than massive American missile superiority.

The forces that originated and developed during the Cold War can still be seen at work today. Spy planes have grown much smaller and more sophisticated despite a preference for spy satellites, which are now an indispensable part of military reconnaissance, communication, and, in the form of MIRV buses, weaponry. ICBM research and development continues, as the US Minuteman III and Polaris III missiles attest to. One disturbing manifestation of the collapse of the Soviet Union also involves ICBM’s: the proliferation of the nuclear hardware of the former Soviet Union among dozens of nations in search of nuclear capabilities. The former club of five nuclear powers: the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China has been joined by an unknown number of smaller nations, some of whom are developing ICBM and IRBM hardware. Outside the military, satellites are now vital in a multitude of areas including communications, navigation, meteorological observation, and scientific research. Manned space-flight continues in a far less competitive manner. An excellent recent example of this was the decommissioning of the Russian space station Mir, and the launch of the US dominated, but not owned, International Space Station Alpha.

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