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Tension in the Post-War World • The Freeze: Tensions Escalate
Classroom Activities

Objective: Learn about the space race and its effects on the Cold War, then write a persuasive argument urging President Eisenhower to expand the space program.

Key Questions:

  • Why was the space race so important to both the United States and the Soviet Union?
  • How did competition in this area add to the sense of hostility between the two superpowers?

Notes on Implementation:

  • To extend this activity, students may craft a similar letter from the point of view of a Soviet cosmonaut to the Soviet leaders explaining the early triumph of Sputnik and asking for more funding.
  • Another possible extension is to have students create Soviet propaganda posters that illustrate the Soviets' pride in their program and play on the fears of Americans (for example, posters might tout their missiles as "the best in the world" or "able to travel far distances, even all the way to the United States").
  • Also, students can create a Venn diagram comparing the space race to the arms race, noting where the two overlap and in what ways they differ.

Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in Tension in the Post-War World Topic Center within the World History: The Modern Era database.

Student Activity:

The space race was a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War to determine which superpower could explore outer space with more success. The technological developments of World War II made such a race possible, and the onset of the Cold War found the United States and the Soviet Union looking for ways to establish predominance over one another. Major events of the space race included the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I in 1957, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's orbit of the Earth in 1961, and U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon in 1969.

In this activity, you will learn about the space race and its relationship to the Cold War and the arms race. Then you will imagine you are a politician who supports the space program, writing a letter to U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower to try to convince him to increase funding for the program.



  • As you watch and read the content in the Resources list, take notes on why the space race was so important to the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and how it ended up causing greater tension between the two countries. Ask yourself: What where the practical applications of having superior technology in the space race? What were the symbolic implications of having a more successful space program? How did the highly-visible nature of the space race contribute to its symbolic interpretations?
  • Using your notes, imagine it's 1957 and you are a politician who supports increasing funding in the space program. Sputnik has just been launched and your constituents are contacting you with fears and concerns. You are about to meet with the president to try to convince him to increase funding in the space program. Using your notes, write down your key talking points and arguments to share. Include two key points to support your argument, one related to the practical implications of the space race, and one related to the symbolic implications. Support your key points with two pieces of evidence.

Organize your thoughts by filling out this organizer:

MAIN ARGUMENT: Increase Funding in the Space Program

KEY POINT ONE (Practical implication of space race): ____________________________

SUPPORTING POINT: _____________________________

SUPPORTING POINT: _____________________________

KEY POINT TWO (Symbolic implication of space race): ____________________________

SUPPORTING POINT: _____________________________

SUPPORTING POINT: _____________________________

  • After your arguments are completed, pair up with another student in the class. One of you will pretend to be Eisenhower, and the other will read their argument and try to persuade the other. While pretending to be Eisenhower, see if you can come up with any counter-arguments to your partner's points. Then, switch places. Once both partners have shared their arguments, work together to write a short response to this question: How did competition in this area add to the sense of hostility between the two superpowers? You will share your responses in a discussion with the rest of your class at the end of the period.


Key Understandings:

  • Weapons of mass destruction increase the impact and importance of political policy

Possible Answers for Activity:

Student's responses will vary, but they should demonstrate understanding of the practical and symbolic implications of the space race and synthesize them to form a well-reasoned argument. One example follows below:

MAIN ARGUMENT: Increase Funding in the Space Program

KEY POINT ONE (Practical implication of space race): The technology developed for the space race is useful for the arms race as well.

SUPPORTING POINT: As the U.S. develops missiles to send Americans to space, that technology helps us develop long-range missiles to hit the Soviet Union with bombs.

SUPPORTING POINT: If the Soviet Union has better space-related technology, they will also have better missile-technology, making them a more dangerous foe if we engage them in war.

KEY POINT TWO (Symbolic implication of space race): The country with the stronger and more successful space program is the more successful country.

SUPPORTING POINT: We in the U.S. want to project our intelligence and innovative power to other countries—if the Soviet Union has greater achievement in the space program, we will look weaker in those areas.

SUPPORTING POINT: Space technology is very visible and public-facing, with missile launches being publicized around the world. Even if the U.S. has strong missile technology than the Soviets, the Soviets will appear to have the strong technology if they can publicly demonstrate it with the space program—so the U.S. has to do the same.

When acting as Eisenhower as their partner shares their argument, students may question the overall value of investing funds into the space race as opposed to funneling it into the military, weapons research and development, or other areas that have perhaps a more direct effect on the country's defense.

In pairs, students should answer the question "How did competition in this area add to the sense of hostility between the two superpowers?" by discussing how both sides were concerned that the other had strong missile technology. The space race program was highly visible to the public, which meant every time a new missile was launched, the public's fears about war increased. This escalated tensions and put more pressure on both governments to invest more money, improve their space program, and prove their country's own technological and military strength. It created a sense of one-upmanship that otherwise wouldn't have been there, further increasing tensions.


MLA Citation

"The Freeze: Tensions Escalate." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2020, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2043231?cid=257. Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.

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