How the Cold War and Sputnik Made School Homework a U.S. Priority

How the Cold War and Sputnik Made School Homework a U.S. Priority

Middle-schoolers who trudge home each day with a 50-pound backpack and hours of homework would have had an easier time in 1901. That’s when the anti-homework movement was at its peak and the state of California actually banned all homework for grades below high school.

From the late 19th century through the Great Depression, homework was a popular punching bag of the progressive education movement, a “child-centered” approach championed by psychologist and reformer John Dewey. Not only was homework a waste of time, progressive educators believed, but it was detrimental to children’s health.

By 1948, only 8 percent of American high school students reported studying for two or more hours each night. Homework might have remained in the educational doghouse if not for the arrival of the Cold War, and specifically, the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957.

To the horror of many Americans, the Space Race was being won by communist scientists from the Soviet Union.

“This elicited widespread fear that we were being undone by our schools,” says Steven Schlossman, a historian at Carnegie Mellon University. “How could it be that the Soviets had gotten there faster? They must have better schools that are training their kids to become scientists on a higher level. America now had to integrate schools into our thinking about national defense policy.”

As far as education was concerned, there was plenty of rethinking to do. Around the late 19th century, with the arrival of waves of immigrants, officials had begun shifting public education policies to best serve the rapidly changing face of America.

Until then, Schlossman says most schoolwork revolved around drill, memorization and recitation. Kids were expected to “say their lessons,” which meant memorizing long passages of history texts and poetry, drilling math problems, and reciting it all out loud in class. All of that memorization and recitation meant hours of practice at home every night. But as America and its students became more diverse, the rigidity of rote memorization seemed insufficient.

If schools were going to offer equal education opportunities for all students, they needed to do it scientifically, and the leading educational minds of the day were fascinated with the emerging fields of psychology and child development.

Progressive's Push Against Homework

Popular turn-of-the-century women’s magazines like The Ladies Home Journal published studies showing that drilling of spelling words didn’t improve children’s overall spelling ability, and its editors promoted more “natural” patterns of child learning and growth. These new ideas about what’s best for kids’ education were picked up by organizations like the National Congress of Mothers, a group formed in 1897 that would become the National Parent Teachers Association (PTA).

It didn’t take long for this increasingly vocal movement of child psychologists and concerned moms to identify public enemy number one.

“The first thing that had to be changed in schooling was this old-fashioned way of doing homework, which was antithetical to children’s natural growth qualities,” says Schlossman. “Homework took on a broader symbolic meaning for ‘out with the old and in with the new.’”

That’s why the California legislature voted in 1901 to abolish all homework for students 14 and younger, a move followed by dozens of large cities and school districts across the country.

The anti-homework argument of the progressive education movement further contended that hours of homework robbed children of outdoor play, considered essential to healthy physical and emotional development.

“For the elementary school child and the junior high school child,” concluded a 1930s study, homework was nothing less than “legalized criminality.” The American Child Health Association equated homework with child labor in 1930, claiming that both practices were “chief causes of the high death and morbidity rates from tuberculosis and heart disease among adolescents.”

By the 1940s, nightly homework levels had dropped to all-time lows.

More Americans Finish High School During Great Depression

But then came World War II and another set of demographic and societal shifts that would again demand changes in American public education. Starting with the Great Depression when jobs were scarce, more American kids started staying in school through high school, and with the post-war baby boom, unprecedented numbers of students entered the nation’s school systems with expectations of reaching high school and beyond.

“High school was now for everybody,” says Schlossman. “This is really important. The idea of a high-school education as a ladder for success really takes root in post-World War II period.”

Even before Cold War anxieties kicked in in the 1950s, there was a growing sentiment among educators that the high-school curriculum needed an upgrade. Standards needed to be raised and teaching methods rethought. If more kids planned on going to college, homework would have to be part of the equation.

But no single event rocketed homework back into the national conversation quite like the launching of Sputnik 1, humankind’s first artificial satellite to reach Earth’s orbit. The response from the U.S. federal government was swift. In 1958, just a year after Sputnik, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), a $1-billion spending package to bolster high-quality teaching and learning in science, mathematics and foreign languages.

A report from the House of Representatives supporting passage of the NDEA read: “It is no exaggeration to say that America’s progress in many fields of endeavor in the years ahead—in fact, the very survival of our free country—may depend in large part upon the education we provide for our young people now.”

Funding from the NDEA helped develop ambitious new high school curriculums, including what became known as the “new math.” Top academics, scientists and educational psychologists teamed up to create a new American public education mandate that would later be called the “academic excellence” movement. And homework was front and center.

Just as the academic excellence movement promoted a deeper and more hands-on approach to math and science in the classroom, homework at all levels had to be more than memorization and mindless drills. It needed to promote creative problem-solving and analytical thinking.

The NDEA investment had immediate effects. By 1962, 23 percent of high-school juniors reported doing two or more hours of homework a night, nearly twice as many as in 1957, the year of Sputnik.

Still, the Sputnik homework bump didn’t last long. The counterculture movement of the late 1960s encouraged students to question authority, and nothing sticks it to “the man” quite like skipping your homework. By 1972, the percentage of high-schoolers doing two or more hours of homework a day dropped back below 10 percent.

Homework Drive Revived Under Reagan

There was another attempt in the early 1980s to revive homework as part of a second-wave academic excellence movement under the Reagan administration. A report called A Nation at Risk warned in Cold-War terms of the potential fallout from a failed education system.

“...[T]he educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people,” wrote the report’s authors.

Schlossman says that this second academic excellence push did little to move the needle significantly on homework, flattening out at around 12 percent of high-schoolers clocking two or more hours a day by the mid-1980s.

“The homework movement of the 1980s was cast as a character reform movement, almost like a moral enterprise,” says Schlossman. “It didn’t have the intellectual expectations of the 1950s and 1960s.”

In more recent times, a 2016 analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics found that U.S. high school students spent an average of 7.5 hours on homework each week—averaging about 1.5 hours per day. While that was up from an average of 6.6 hours in 2012, it remained an easier lift that what students took on during the heady days of the Cold War.


The History of Homework: Why Was it Invented and Who Was Behind It?

Homework is long-standing education staple, one that many students hate with a fiery passion. We can’t really blame them, especially if it’s a primary source of stress that can result in headaches, exhaustion, and lack of sleep.

It’s not uncommon for students, parents, and even some teachers to complain about bringing assignments home. Yet, for millions of children around the world, homework is still a huge part of their daily lives as students — even if it continues to be one of their biggest causes of stress and unrest.

It makes one wonder, who in their right mind would invent such a thing as homework?


The American Response To The Sputnik Launch

The launch of Sputnik 1 demonstrated that the Soviet Union had developed Inter Contintental Ballistic Missile capability which meant that the Soviet Union could send Satellites into Space and also launch Nuclear Weapons that could target Western Europe and potentially North America.

As a result, t he United States realised the need to accelerate the development of new military technology.

Soon after Sputnik, the National Defense Education and NASA Acts were passed all of which prioritised Scientifc knowledge starting with a complete overhaul of the educational system as the government invested billions of dollars in education starting at the school level.

It also became a priority for the US to close what it termed the ‘missile gap’.

The stakes were raised even higher when in 1961, the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin, the first human successfully into orbit.

As a result, President Kennedy announced the Appollo Program which was defined by the goal of landing the first man on the moon.

In addition, greater investment was made in the field of space weaponization and development of ballistic missile defence systems.

The end result was accelarated technological achievements in Science and Military technology which culminated in the moon landing in 1969.


The Arms Race

As an ideological “Iron Curtain” cut the Soviet Union and its satellite states off from the rest of Europe, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. engaged in an arms race, pouring trillions of dollars into accumulating nuclear arsenals and racing to explore space. By 1962, both countries had missile defenses pointed at one another. That year, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought both countries closer to actual conflict than any other event in the Cold War.

Multiple proxy wars stood in for actual conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Korean War, Vietnam War, and a number of other armed conflicts, during which both sides either funded one side of the war or fought directly against a communist or capitalist force, are all considered Cold War proxies. Both sides also funded revolutions, insurgencies, and political assassinations in Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.


How Sputnik Launched Ed-Tech: The National Defense Education Act of 1958

On October 4, 1957 news broke that the Soviet Union had successfully launched the first man-made satellite into space. Sputnik prompted a national panic, not simply over a looming Cold War – the possibility of Soviet spying or bombing, for example – but about the purported failures of the US education system.

“The schools never recovered from Sputnik, ” education researcher Gerald Bracey contends.

According to historian Robert Divine, President Eisenhower was “not impressed by the Soviet Fear. … He believed that American science and American education were much sounder than critics charged, and, above all, he was confident that the United States held a commanding lead over the Soviet Union in striking power.” But the President couldn’t compromise the military intelligence that reassured him that the US was ahead of the USSR in science and in education. And he failed to reassure the public or politicians or journalists that that was the case either.

So something had to be done.

One year later, in 1958, Eisenhower signed into law the National Defense Education Act, a cornerstone of his administration’s response to Sputnik. The law helped reshape education in the US with a massive influx of federal dollars. And it served to give education technology in particular not only funding and legitimacy but its ideological mission: a corrective to progressive education in the name of national security and science.

“When education becomes completely enmeshed in the petty, surface details of a student’s everyday life, it loses the opportunity of equipping him with the intellectual powers that lie beneath the surface. By frittering time away upon the ‘felt needs’ of adolescents, the school runs the risk of leaving its students helpless in the presence of the real ‘real life’ needs that will come later and that will put to test all the resources of a mature and disciplined intelligence.” - Arthur Bestor. Educational Wastelands

Progressive education was already under attack in the 1950s, with accusations from scholars and scientists that it was contributing to a growing anti-intellectualism in the US. It was, according to one admiral, making us “soft.” Progressive education, according to its critics, had become an excuse to not teach a huge swath of schoolchildren how to read and write and do arithmetic. Traditional disciplines were not taught well (or not at all), as the emphasis in schools had supposedly turned instead to “life adjustment” and to vocational, “how to” education. The curriculum along with teachers’ training, these critics argued, had to be more rigorous if American society was to survive.

One of the most popular and prominent critics was Arthur Bestor, professor of history at the University of Illinois and author of Educational Wastelands (1953) and Restoration of Learning (1956). Bestor penned many op-eds in the popular press including “We Are Less Educated Than Fifty Years Ago” in the US News and World Report in 1956. After the launch of Sputnik, Bestor wrote again for the magazine: “What Went Wrong with US Schools?” There he contended that schools were failing to adequately train students and “that’s why the first satellite bears the label ‘Made in Russia.’”

LIFE magazine also ran a five-part series in 1958, comparing schools in the US and USSR. Moscow student Alexei Kutzkov was depicted, serious-faced, performing advanced experiments in physics and chemistry. Chicago student Stephen Lapekas was shown laughing, retreating to the back of the class after he failed to solve a simple geography problem on the blackboard. In typing class, Lapekas jokes, “I type about a word a minute.” Schools in Russia were “austere.” Schools in the US, “relaxed.” The former were exposing students to complex materials like “Shakespeare and Shaw” students in the US were years behind academically, and they were distracted, surreptitiously reading magazines in class. Teachers were not in control.

“It’s time to close our carnival,” LIFE insisted. “To revitalize America’s educational dream, we must stop kowtowing to the mediocre.”

Schools became a scapegoat as Cold War hysteria kicked in.

“I recognize, of course, that in this dark hour in our nation’s history, we must pool our thinking and ideas that we may come up with the very best program in our battle for survival” – Senator Lister Hill (D-AL) in a letter to an Alabama educator

Sputnik also provided an opportunity for two Democratic legislators from Alabama, Lister Hill and Carl Elliott, to forward their educational agenda, as Wayne Urban argues in his comprehensive history of the National Defense Education Act, More Than Science and Sputnik. As that title suggests, the provisions that ended up in the NDEA involved much more than the response proposed by the Eisenhower administration and addressed much more than “national defense.”

The National Defense Education Act of 1958

Title I reads in part that “The Congress hereby finds and declares that the security of the Nation requires the fullest development of the mental resources and technical skills of its young men and women. The present emergency demands that additional and more adequate educational opportunities be made available. The defense of this Nation depends upon the mastery of modern techniques developed from complex scientific principles. It depends as well upon the discovery and development of new principles, new techniques, and new knowledge.”

Title II dealt with student loans, allocating the amounts and specifying how it would be divided among states. (Initially Title II provided scholarships instead.)

Title III authorized $70 million per year of the NDEA’s four year duration to strengthen science, math, and foreign language education.

Title IV established a national fellowship program to be awarded for graduate education, with some of the money earmarked for those interested in becoming college professors.

Title V authorized funding to train guidance counselors and to implement standardized testing programs that would identify “gifted and talented” students.

Title VI authorized funding for Language Area Centers and Language Institutes.

Title VII authorized funding for both the research and implementation of new education technologies, including radio, TV, film, and yes, teaching machines.

Title VIII provided funding for vocational training.

Title IX established the Science Information Institute and Science Information Council, operating under the National Science Foundation, to advise the government on technical issues.

Title X provided grants to the states for improving data collection and statistical analysis by state education agencies.

The Federal Role in Education

There has long been resistance to federal involvement in education in the US, but pushing for more aid for education was always a cornerstone of Lister Hill’s efforts as a senator – efforts that had failed repeatedly. This was further complicated for the Southern politician by Brown v. Board of Education, prompting Hill to insist that the demand for federal funding was not the same as a call for federal control of education.

In 1956, the first piece of legislation that would provide federal aid for education came before Congress since the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, an African American representing Harlem, proposed an amendment that would prevent any states that operated segregated schools from receiving federal funding. Indeed, he vowed to attach the amendment to any education-related proposal. That same year, 101 Congressmen signed the “Southern Manifesto,” making clear their opposition to racial integration of public places, including schools.

Both Carl Elliott and Lister Hill, the sponsors of the National Defense Education Act, signed the manifesto.

Fortunately for Hill, and for Carl Elliott, the opportunity presented by Sputnik for passage of landmark legislation in federal aid to education was not neutralized by the segregation issue. The federal administration that worked with Hill and Carl Elliott on NDEA was not inclined to support Powell amendments that prohibited racial discrimination, and Hill and Elliott were able to work successfully with the administration to neutralize the Powell amendment in the final version of NDEA that came from a conference committee of the House and Senate. What emerged was a bill that said nothing about racial discrimination but was interpreted to be antidiscriminatory in all its titles.

Merit versus Equality: Teaching and Testing Machines

There are many provisions in the NDEA that have had a lingering impact on education policy and politics – the push for standardized testing the legitimization of education technology and most significantly perhaps, the authorization of federal funding for schools and for education initiatives. And it’s noteworthy, of course, that it was the launch of Sputnik that crystallized the efforts to pass the legislation – it’s worth considering how, despite the testing and technology and funding, education has been unable to escape from the crisis (rhetoric) since then either.

Science and technology – then and now, quite arguably – have managed to deflect attention from their own failings onto the school system. And there’s this interesting legacy as well, in scientists’ involvement in shaping the NDEA legislation, in the role of “merit” and “educational excellence.” As Urban argues, the NDEA was

both a science education and a much-more-than-science education measure, and it broke the dam against federal aid to education through astute use of a national defense metaphor by all its proponents. Further, it had liberal democratic provisions pointing toward equity in some of its titles and excellence oriented policies and practice in other titles. The liberal aspects of NDEA pointed toward its immediate successor measures such as ESEA and two higher education acts, but its excellence titles pointed toward the repudiation of equity in the interests of educational excellence that would be the goal of federal educational policy after 1980.

Where does education technology, with its roots in the National Defense Education Act, exist on that spectrum?

Has ed-tech ever furthered equity? Or has it always been about educational measurement and achievement, always wielded to serve arguments about the failures of public education and to stoke fears about Others?


Though Sputnik was a relatively simple satellite compared with the more complex machines to follow, its beeping signal from space galvanized the United States to enact reforms in science and engineering education so that the nation could regain technological ground it appeared to have lost to its Soviet rival.

The Space Race spawned pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites. It prompted competitive countries to send unmanned space probes to the Moon, Venus and Mars. It also made possible human spaceflight in low Earth orbit and to the Moon.


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Although he couldn't publicly admit it without risking national security, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not greatly surprised by the launch of Sputnik.

Heard 'round the world

For many of us born before the 1950s, the fascination and astonishment engendered by the launch of Sputnik remain fresh in our minds. Like many of my generation, I can recall exactly where I was when I heard about Sputnik's launch. I was 18 years old, a college freshman at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. A friend stopped me in the middle of the campus to say that he had heard about it on the radio. Instinctively, we both looked up.

Within hours I would actually hear its signal rebroadcast on network radio. Before the weekend was over, I got to hear it directly on a shortwave radio as it passed overhead.

Not only could you hear Sputnik, but, depending on where you were, it was possible to see it with the naked eye on certain days in the early morning or the late evening when the sun was still close enough to the horizon to illuminate it. While standing in the middle of the college football field a week or so after the launch, I first saw the satellite scooting across a dark evening sky orbiting the Earth at a speed of 18,000 miles per hour. Watching Sputnik traverse the sky was seeing history happen with my own eyes. To me, it was as if Sputnik was the starter's pistol in an exciting new race. I was electrified, delirious, as I witnessed the beginning of the Space Age.

The 1939 "World of Tomorrow" World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York promoted belief in science and technology and had a powerful influence on a generation of Americans.

A new world

Prior to Sputnik, popular interest in science and technology had been on the rise since as early as the 1939 "World of Tomorrow" World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. I attended the fair, albeit in utero, as I was born three days after my parents' last visit. But they saved many artifacts of the fair for me, including an official guidebook, which fascinated me as a kid and jump-started my interest in all sorts of things, particularly space travel.

That guidebook turned out to be a preview of the future. Exhibits like Ford's "Road of Tomorrow," General Motors' "Futurama," and the multisponsored "Town of Tomorrow" were more than fanciful prototypes many of their imagined advances made their way into everyday life within a couple of decades. The fair's centerpiece was "Democracity," and it heralded wartime dreams and postwar realities: superhighways, ranch-style houses, rec rooms, workshops for "do-it-yourselfers," and booming suburbs (known as "satellites" in the Democracity display) replete with prefab houses, two-car garages, and stereophonic sound. Something called "television" was actually demonstrated at the RCA exhibit.

The fair's Transportation Pavilion was devoted to space exploration. There was a rocketport, a moonport, and a rocketship shot from a "rocketgun." In one lavish demonstration you could simulate blastoff on a trip to Venus. Once there, you could stroll a primeval jungle inhabited by immense Venusian beasts and a colony of Martians. The fair promised a day when sleek vehicles would take passengers to the planets as easily as they could fly from New York to Chicago. It was as if this orderly march into the future was a part of America's destiny.

As it turned out, the real "world of tomorrow" was delayed because of World War II, but its vision was carried intact into the late 1940s and early 1950s, when it began to be realized. Americans who had struggled through the Great Depression and the war embraced the promise of a burgeoning middle class having goods, services, and comforts that formerly had been the province of European royalty. The average family's car had more pure horsepower than existed in all the stables of Buckingham Palace a generation earlier.

By 1957, a new world was at hand for the United States. The country was creating an interstate highway system the suburbs were growing families with two cars and color televisions were becoming the norm. The highest peacetime federal budget in history ($71.8 billion) was in place, and it was the first year in which more than 1,000 computers would be built, bought, and shipped. There were advances in public health, although none more stunning than Dr. Jonas Salk's discovery of a vaccine against polio, the scourge of an entire generation of children.

At the same time, social changes were beginning to transform the United States. A great struggle to achieve a more egalitarian society was beginning. The first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction had been enacted in Congress on September 9, less than a month before Sputnik's launch. The Arkansas National Guard was in Little Rock, Arkansas, enforcing the right of blacks to go to school with whites. Culturally as well, the country was moving to a different beat. Rock 'n' roll had come onto the scene, and Elvis Presley owned the summer of 1957 with his two-sided monster hit record of "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog."

The Army's Wernher von Braun, seen here with a model rocket, was prevented from making America's first attempt to put a satellite in orbit and was forced to defer to a team from the Naval Research Laboratory. When the Navy's Vanguard failed, von Braun put America in space with Explorer in January, 1958.

A Crisis of Confidence

Just when Americans were feeling self-confident and optimistic about the future, along came the crude, kerosene-powered Sputnik launch. The space race was under way, and the Soviets had won the first leg—the United States was agog and unnerved.

"No event since Pearl Harbor set off such repercussions in public life," wrote historian Walter A. McDougall in The Heavens and the Earth—A Political History of the Space Age . Simon Ramo, space pioneer and cofounder of Thompson Ramo Woolridge, later known as TRW, Inc., wrote in The Business of Science that "the American response to the accomplishment of the Soviet Union was comparable to the reaction I could remember to Lindbergh's landing in France, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's death."

There was a sudden crisis of confidence in American technology, values, politics, and the military. Science, technology, and engineering were totally reworked and massively funded in the shadow of Sputnik. The Russian satellite essentially forced the United States to place a new national priority on research science, which led to the development of microelectronics—the technology used in today's laptop, personal, and handheld computers. Many essential technologies of modern life, including the Internet, owe their early development to the accelerated pace of applied research triggered by Sputnik.

On another level, Sputnik affected national attitudes toward conspicuous consumption as well, symbolically killing off the market for the Edsel automobile and the decadent automotive tail fin. It was argued that the engineering talents of the nation were being wasted on frivolities. Americans, wrote historian Samuel Flagg Bemis from the vantage point of 1962, "had been experiencing the world crisis from soft seats of comfort, debauched by [the] mass media. pandering for selfish profit to the lowest level of our easy appetites, fed full of toys and gewgaws, our power, our manpower softened in will and body in a climate of amusement."

While Eisenhower opposed sending men to the moon, John Kennedy made it a national priority. Here, Kennedy views the Saturn launch system with von Braun (center) and NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Seamans.

Spur for spacemen

Sputnik also changed people's lives in ways that filtered into modern popular culture. Sputnik was the instrument that gave Stephen King the "dread" that fuels his novels, caused the prolific Isaac Asimov to begin calling himself a science writer rather than a science fiction writer, inspired Ross Perot to create an electronics dynasty, and led others to become cosmonauts and astronauts.

NASA astronaut Franklin R. Chang-Díaz is a case in point. He was born on April 5, 1950, in San José, Costa Rica. On a trip to Venezuela in October 1957, the seven-year-old was told by his mother to look skyward to see the Russian satellite crossing the night sky. Although the young Franklin could not spot Sputnik, he became so infatuated with the fact that human influence had moved into space that he decided then and there that this was his future. Once the American manned space program was under way, he wrote to Wernher von Braun, director of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, to find out how he might apply to become an astronaut. In the form letter that came back, he was advised to get a scientific or engineering degree and learn to fly. He also was told that he would have to become an American citizen. The United States, after all, was in a race with the Soviet Union.

At 18 he came to the United States from Costa Rica he received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut in 1973 and a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977. Along the way he became a U.S. citizen and then in 1981 an astronaut. Chang-Díaz hopes to go to Mars eventually.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy tells Congress of his intention for the nation to achieve the goal, "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon. "

The space race begins

Politically, Sputnik created a perception of American weakness, complacency, and a "missile gap," which led to bitter accusations, resignations of key military figures, and contributed to the election of John F. Kennedy, who emphasized the space gap and the role of the Eisenhower-Nixon administration in creating it. But although the Sputnik episode publicly depicted Eisenhower as passive and unconcerned, he was fiercely dedicated to averting nuclear war at a time when the threat was very real. His concern for national security took precedence over any concerns about beating the Russians into Earth orbit.

When Kennedy as president decided to put Americans on the moon, he did so with the belief that voters who had been kids at the time of Sputnik were more willing than their parents to pay the high price of going into space.

Diplomatically, Sputnik helped realign the United States and Great Britain as allies. For a decade, ties between the two nations had weakened partly due to the 1946 Atomic Energy Act, which had deprived the United Kingdom of American nuclear secrets, and partly because of the strong position that the United States had taken against the British and French during the Suez Crisis, which had been prompted by Egypt's seizure of the Suez Canal in July 1956. Now with the common threat of Soviet power implied by Sputnik, NATO was strengthened, guaranteeing the placement of American nuclear arms in Europe. The satellite touched off a superpower competition that may well have acted as a surrogate contest for universal power—perhaps even a stand-in for nuclear world war.

NASA chief historian Roger D. Launius wrote on the 40th anniversary of the launch: "To a remarkable degree, the Soviet announcement changed the course of the Cold War. Two generations after the event, words do not easily convey the American reaction to the Soviet satellite." Without Sputnik, it is all but certain that there would not have been a race to the moon, which became the centerpiece contest of the Cold War.

By 1968, when this photograph was taken, Wernher von Braun had been director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, developer of the Saturn rockets that got us to the moon, for eight years. A Saturn IB stands at the ready in the background.

To the moon

From the outset, wrangling among the branches of the military over control of the rockets that would take the United States into space threatened the success of the American space program even before Sputnik. Eisenhower was at odds with his generals over the program, and each branch of the service had its own aspirations of going into space. The main event pitted the Army's von Braun and his Rocket Team in Huntsville, Alabama against a team from the Naval Research Laboratory. The Army had the mighty Jupiter C rocket and its own Orbiter or Deal satellite (later to become Explorer) pitted against the Navy's experimental Viking rocket and Vanguard satellite.

The most powerful early rockets were developed as weapons—first as German V-2 technology from World War II and ultimately as intercontinental ballistic missiles. The space program seemed destined for civilian control just as the power of the atomic bomb had been taken from the military a decade earlier. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration began in 1958 as a reaction to Sputnik and as a means for turning missiles into launch vehicles for America's civilian space efforts.

President Eisenhower opposed sending men to the moon, but his successor, John F. Kennedy, made a lunar landing a national priority. Receiving virtual carte blanche in budget requests, NASA won the race for the United States, but victory was by no means an easy feat.

National insecurity, wounded national pride, infighting, political grandstanding, clandestine plots, and ruthless media frenzy were but a few of the things the United States had to overcome to bounce back from the blow dealt to the nation by Sputnik.


The Cold War: Events & People

  • The Cold War Intensifies (327)
  • August 29th, 1949: Soviet Union detonates
  • an atomic bomb at a test site in Siberia
    • Military balance shifts: both sides in the Cold War have nuclear weapons
    • This triggers an arms race to develop more powerful thermonuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs)
    • 1952: United States detonates world’s first
    • hydrogen bomb
    • 1953: Soviets detonate thermonuclear bomb
    • October 1, 1949: Chinese communists (led by
    • Mao Zedong) win civil war against Chinese
    • Nationalists
    • -Mao establishes a communist regime:
      • “The People’s Republic of China”
      • The Nationalists flee to Taiwan claiming to be the legitimate Chinese government
      • -The US:
        • Demands that NATO does not recognize the communist government in China (most nations comply until the late 60s)
        • Demands that the Taiwan government represents China at all United Nations councils
        • Provides financial and military aid to Taiwan to prevent attacks from China
        • Anti-Communism (328)
        • Gouzenko affair confirms anti-communist fears in North America
        • In the US, anti-communist investigations are led by Senetor Joseph McCarthy (McCarthyism)
        • In Canada:
          • RCMP secretly investigates potential “commies”
          • Immigrants believed to be communists or sympathizers are denied entry into Canada
          • Known communists are deported or denied to visit Canada
          • The Korean War (328)
          • Korea taken over by Japan in early 1900s
          • After WWII Soviet occupied Northern part of Korea and put in a communist gov’t
          • American troops occupied South
          • June 1950: North Korea invaded South Korea
          • Americans view this as an act of communist agression
          • US orders an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council – take action (Soviets boycott to protest China not being recognized)
          • Ordered N.Korea to withdraw…UN members to send military forces (under American command)
          • Canada sent one infantry brigade, 8 naval destroyers, air squadron, 27 000 soldiers
          • 1951:Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry won praise—they were outnumbered 8-1, spent 3 days in hand-hand fighting, but held on and won Battle of Kapyong, preventing Seoul (capital) from falling
          • 516 Canadians were killed in Korean War, over 1000 wounded
          • Showed world Canada was prepared to take a responsible role in UN
          • Korean War ended in 1953 with a truce
          • War did not succeed in uniting the 2 Koreas

          Minuteman Missile National Historic Site: Protecting a Legacy of the Cold War (Teaching with Historic Places)

          The Minuteman was one of the most significant strategic weapons in U.S. history. With the turn of a key, the missile could deliver its nuclear weapon to a Soviet target in 30 minutes or less. It was a weapon for which there was virtually no defense -- for a war no one could win. For nearly three decades Ellsworth's 44th Missile Wing stood on alert. Then in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell.¹

          Dispersed across the rolling high plains of western South Dakota during the Cold War were 150 Minuteman Missiles. These missiles held warheads that could have been used in a devastating counter strike against the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear war. The industrial might and mechanistic strength held within the underground silos were in stark contrast to the above-ground fields of golden wheat and pastoral grazing lands.

          For three decades -- 1963-1993 -- thousands of people passed through this seemingly peaceful area unaware of the destructive force hidden beneath the landscape. The Minuteman system transformed the prairie into a military and technological frontier. As the first solid-fuel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile ever deployed by the United States, the Minuteman enhanced America's military capabilities. It was a key component of America's Cold War policy of deterrence and by extension helped facilitate a peaceful end to the Cold War. Designated in 1999, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site protects and preserves two significant sites on this former Cold War missile field in rural South Dakota.


          ¹ Testimony of Tim J. Pavek, Minuteman II Deactivation Program Manager, U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Hearings before the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands House Committee on Resources, 106th Congress, September 14, 1999.

          About This Lesson

          This lesson is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration file, "Minuteman Missile National Historic Site" The Missile Plains: Frontline of America's Cold War, Historic Resource Study, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and primary sources dealing with the Cold War. The lesson is a collaborative effort produced by the Division of Interpretation at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. It was edited by the Teaching with Historic Places staff. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into classrooms across the country.

          Where it fits into the curriculum

          Topics: The lesson can be used in American history, social studies, and geography courses in units on modern American history, the Cold War, American foreign policy, 20th century military history, or modern world history.

          Time period: Late 1950s to early 1990s

          United States History Standards for Grades 5-12

          Minuteman Missile National Historic Site: Protecting a Legacy of the Cold War
          relates to the following National Standards for History:


          Era 9 Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)

          Standard 1C- The student understands how postwar science augmented the nation’s economic strength, transformed daily life, and influenced the world economy.

          Standard 2A- The student understands the international origins and domestic consequences of the Cold War.Era 10 Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)

          Standard 1C- The student understands major foreign policy initiatives.

          Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

          National Council for the Social Studies

          Minuteman Missile National Historic Site: Protecting a Legacy of the Cold War
          relates to the following Social Studies Standards:


          Theme II: Time, Continuity and Change

          Standard B - The student identifies and uses key concepts such as chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity.

          Standard C - The student identifies and describes selected historical periods and patterns of change within and across cultures, such as the rise of civilizations, the development of transportation systems, the growth and breakdown of colonial systems, and others.

          Standard D - The student identifies and uses processes important to reconstructing and reinterpreting the past, such as using a variety of sources, providing, validating, and weighing evidence for claims, checking credibility of sources, and searching for causality.

          Theme III: People, Places and Environments

          Standard B - The student creates, interprets, uses, and distinguishes various representations of the earth, such as maps, globes, and photographs.

          Standard D - The student estimates distance, calculates scale, and distinguishes other geographic relationships such as population density and spacial distribution patterns.

          Standard H - The student examines, interprets, and analyzes physical and cultural patterns and their interactions, such as land uses, settlement patterns, cultural transmission of customs and ideas, and ecosystem changes.

          Theme V: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

          Standard E - The student identifies and describes examples of tensions between belief systems and government policies and laws.

          Theme VI: Power, Authority, and Governance

          Standard C - The student analyzes and explains ideas and governmental mechanisms to meet wants and needs of citizens, regulate territory, manage conflict, and establish order and security.

          Standard F - The student explains conditions, actions, and motivations that contribute to conflict and cooperation with and among nations.

          Standard G - The student describes and analyzes the role of technology in communications, transportation, information-processing, weapons development, or other areas as it contributes to or helps resolve conflicts.

          Standard I - The student gives examples and explains how governments attempt to achieve their stated ideals at home and abroad.

          Theme VII: Production, Distribution, and Consumption

          Standard I - The student uses economic concepts to help explain historical and current developments and issues in local, national, or global contexts.

          Theme VIII: Science, Technology, and Society

          Standard A - The student examines and describes the influence of culture on scientific and technological choices and advancement, such as in transportation, medicine, and warfare.

          Theme IX: Global Connections

          Standard B - The student analyze examples of conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among groups, societies, and nations

          Standard C - The student describes and analyzes the effects of changing technologies on the global community.

          Objectives for students

          1) Explain the Cold War and how it differed from "hot" wars (or armed conflict).
          2) Compare and contrast the benefits of solid and liquid fuel ballistic missile systems.
          3) Outline how the Cold War influenced the development and deployment of the Minuteman Missile weapons system.
          4) Investigate the role of Missileers during the Cold War.
          5) Conduct oral histories to learn about how the Cold War impacted their community

          Materials for students

          The materials listed below either can be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a smaller, low-resolution version with associated questions and alone in a larger version.
          1) two maps showing missile fields in the United States and missile sites in South Dakota
          2) three readings on the Cold War, Minuteman Missiles, and life as a missileer
          3) six photos of various Cold War subjects and Minuteman Missile facilities.

          Visiting the site

          The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site consists of two detached facilities: Launch Control Facility, Delta-01 and Launch Facility, Delta-09. Tours are offered daily throughout the year and begin at the park's Project Office located off Interstate 90 exit 131. For more information write the superintendent at: Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, 21280 SD Hwy. 240, Philip, SD 57567 or call: 605-433-5552, or visit the park's website.

          Getting Started

          Inquiry Question

          What might this be?
          Where do you think it might be located?

          Setting the Stage

          Following World War II relations between the United States and Soviet Union¹ spiraled downward. Each nation had emerged victorious from the war, but their ideological and economic systems were extremely different. The United States was based on a system of democracy and free enterprise. The Soviet Union employed a communist system ruled by a single political party.

          At the end of the war, the United States had led the world in development of new military weapons such as the atomic and hydrogen bombs. American technological expertise had kept it ahead during an escalating military competition with the Soviet Union. In the fall of 1957 though, the United States was jolted into stark reality. On October 4, 1957 the nation learned that the Soviets had gained a technological advantage. A Soviet satellite known as Sputnik had been the first of its kind ever launched into space. The physical presence of Sputnik seemed relatively innocent. After all, it was nothing more than an aluminum sphere--about the size of a beach ball--that had two radio transmitters that emitted a loud beeping noise. Yet American politicians, defense analysts and even ordinary citizens came to a seemingly logical conclusion: if the Soviets could use a rocket to launch Sputnik into space then it was just a matter of time before they used the same rocket technology to strike the heartland of America with a nuclear warhead. Suddenly every community in the United States was vulnerable.

          A sort of psychological hysteria gripped the American mindset. Top scientists and military planners believed America had fallen far behind the Soviets in science and technology. Such scientific luminaries as Edward Teller, the physicist who had helped develop the hydrogen bomb, said that the United States had "lost a battle more important and greater than Pearl Harbor."² Government reports called for a massive increase in the funding of the development of a U.S. missile force. President Dwight Eisenhower responded by raising financial support for intercontinental ballistic missile development to record levels. Over the next few years the U.S. was able to create and deploy a series of groundbreaking missile systems across the heartland of the United States. The most powerful and advanced of these, known as "Minuteman," would give the U.S. a decided military advantage over the Soviets for years to come as the first solid-fuel missile system deployed. It would take the Soviet Union another 11 years to develop its equal.

          ¹ The Soviet Union was created and expanded as a union of Soviet republics formed within the territory of the Russian Empire. Its geographic boundaries have varied over time.
          ² Isaacs, Jeremy and Downing, Taylor.
          The Cold War: An Illustrated History 1945-1991 (Little, Brown and Company, 1998) p. 155.

          Locating the Site

          Map 1: Minuteman Missile fields in the United States.

          The shaded areas on Map 1 show the location of the missile silos in the fields.
          Minuteman Missiles were deployed across the Central and Northern Great Plains region beginning in 1961. Minuteman Missiles were America's first solid-fuel Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). A ballistic missile is one that is launched by a rocket motor which then shuts off when all of the fuel is burned. The rest of the missile's flight is determined by the forces of gravity. These missiles were designed for delivery of nuclear weapons to a target thousands of miles away. By 1965 there were 1,000 Minuteman ICBMs located in six different missile fields. Each missile field covered a vast tract of land up to 15,000 square miles in size in order to keep the individual silos well-dispersed. The military chose the Great Plains area to deploy these missiles for several reasons. The first Minuteman Missiles were deployed in the northern part of the country because their range was limited to 4,300 miles. The missile had to be launched over the North Pole in order to strike targets in the central Soviet Union. Also, the Great Plains was the furthest area from both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. If missiles had been sited in states adjacent to the ocean, they could have been destroyed by Soviet submarine launched ballistic missiles in a matter of minutes or even seconds. Other stated reasons for missile field locations included closeness to existing Air Force bases for logistical support, cost effectiveness, and low population density in the Great Plains possibly limiting casualties in a nuclear war.

          Questions for Map 1
          1. Locate the six Air Force bases (AFB) with missile fields and list them by state. Why were the missile fields situated near these bases?
          2. Why were missile fields located in the middle of the United States? Why were they not located closer to the Atlantic or Pacific coasts of the United States?
          3. Based on the reasons listed above did the Great Plains seem like the best place to deploy missiles? Why or why not? Can you suggest a better area in the United States to locate them? If so, what is your reasoning?

          Locating the Site

          Map 2: 44th Missile Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base.

          The 44th Missile Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota consisted of 150 Launch Facilities (LF's)--or silos, which are underground shelters for missiles--and 15 Launch Control Facility (LCF) support structures (one for every 10 silos). The LCF had a facility manager, cook, and several security police who were stationed on the topside to provide support for two missileers stationed in a Launch Control Center (LCC) capsule below the surface, where military personnel monitored the systems and could send specific launch commands to the remote silos. Each silo held one Minuteman Missile. The silos were unmanned, independent, and dispersed across the high plains. The Air Force required that no silo be within three and a half miles of another. This was done so an explosion at the one facility would not destroy another facility. An underground network of communication cables interconnected the silos and support structures.

          A "flight" was made up of 10 missiles. For example, support structure Delta-01 was in command of silos Delta-02 through Delta-11. Each flight of 10 missiles was part of a squadron of 50 missiles. There were three squadrons of 50 missiles in western South Dakota making up the entire 44th missile wing of 150 missiles. The missile field in South Dakota covered a vast region of approximately 13,500 square miles (an area larger than the state of Maryland).

          Questions for Map 2
          1. Locate Ellsworth Air Force Base. What is the distance to the furthest Launch Control Facility from the base? If you drove 60 miles an hour how long would it take to get from the base to this LCF?
          2. Locate the Delta missile flight (hint: the map shows each flight by the first letter in its name)? Describe its location within the missile field?
          3. Based on the information given above why do think it was better to have the sites spaced apart? Can you think of a different way to organize the missile field?
          4. Compare Maps 1 and 2. Does Map 2 give you a better idea of the complex organization of these facilities? Why or why not?

          Determining the Facts

          Reading 1: The Cold War Escalates

          For four decades after the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union became locked in what would become known as the Cold War. The Cold War would be quite different from past wars. Most wars had been "hot" wars where there had been direct armed conflict between opponents. However, the Cold War was a struggle between the Americans and the Soviets to determine which of their economic and ideological systems would govern world affairs. The United States system was based on democratic government (where citizens control government) and an economic system of "free enterprise" (or privately owned businesses). The Soviet Union was a "communist" state, where a single authoritarian party owned all property within the nation and controlled all production. Goods and services were then distributed to the people by the state. The democratic and communist systems were directly opposed to one another. Instead of engaging in military conflict, the two powers became engaged in political, economic, and cultural rivalry, and most alarmingly, competition to develop the greatest military power.

          Containing the spread of communism in both Western Europe and Asia was the main focus of American foreign policy efforts. American political and military leaders became increasingly convinced that only a show of force would keep communist aggression from controlling the world. "Battlegrounds" had included the divided city of Berlin, which had been split between East and West Germany after World War II, and the Korean peninsula. By the mid 1950s many Americans wondered if it was just a matter of time before the Cold War would escalate into armed conflict with the Soviets. Because the United States had enjoyed a lead in developing scientific and military technologies the nation still felt confident it would eventually emerge victorious in this tense conflict. That illusion was shattered with the Soviet launch of the satellite Sputnik on October 4, 1957 in advance of the U.S. plan to launch a satellite by spring of 1958. A communist system once defined by economic and technological backwardness had been able to develop technologies that could not only threaten America's influence around the world, but also its own heartland. American fears were compounded by statements from the Soviet's chief political leader, Premier Nikita Khrushchev that the communists would soon be mass producing missiles. Americans began to ask the inevitable question: How could the United States regain their advantage?

          At this point, Americans put their faith in President Dwight Eisenhower. He successfully led our military in Europe during World War II and oversaw a period of great prosperity during his first five years in office. If anyone could quiet the growing crisis of confidence in the American system, it would be the leader fondly nicknamed, "Ike." Eisenhower had long warned the nation about the consequences of a vast military build-up. Sure it was important for national security, but 40% of the national budget already went for military expenditures. Competing with the Soviets by further increasing the military budget had more than just financial costs. Eisenhower believed the economy could become so tied to military spending that it could threaten America's democratic values. Then the United States would be no different than the Soviet Union. Eisenhower began to speed up the development of ballistic missiles, both because of the threat they posed to the Soviet Union, and also because they were considered more cost effective than other forms of military buildup.

          In late 1957, Eisenhower felt immense pressure. Americans growing displeasure after Sputnik increased after the failed launch of America's first satellite, Vanguard TV3. Americans watched the nationally televised event with horror on December 6, 1957 as the rocket rose a mere four feet off the pad, fell back to the ground, and exploded in flames. The nation was embarrassed. On January 9, 1958, Eisenhower gave a speech before Congress and the nation in an attempt to quiet the nation's concern. He outlined a plan for U.S. national defense that would eventually exceed Soviet efforts.

          Now as to the period ahead: Every part of our military establishment must and will be equipped to do its defensive job with the most modern weapons and methods. But it is particularly important to our planning that we make a candid estimate of the effect of long-range ballistic missiles on the present deterrent power I have described.At this moment, the consensus of opinion is that we are probably somewhat behind the Soviets in some areas of long-range ballistic missile development. But it is my conviction, based on close study of all relevant intelligence, that if we make the necessary effort, we will have the missiles, in the needed quantity and in time, to sustain and strengthen the deterrent power of our increasingly efficient bombers. One encouraging fact evidencing this ability is the rate of progress we have achieved since we began to concentrate on these missiles.

          The intermediate ballistic missiles, Thor and Jupiter, have already been ordered into production. The parallel progress in the intercontinental ballistic missile effort will be advanced by our plans for acceleration. The development of the submarine-based Polaris missile system has progressed so well that its future procurement schedules are being moved forward markedly.
          When it is remembered that our country has concentrated on the development of ballistic missiles for only about a third as long as the Soviets, these achievements show a rate of progress that speaks for itself.¹

          Following Eisenhower's address, Congress passed legislation that began a series of programs to boost American technology. One hope was that an emphasis on educational incentives and programs would lead to an increased number of engineers. Financial support for scientific research tripled over the next year. Development of the Polaris submarine based missile program became a priority for naval operations. Finally, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Programs experienced budget increases. In just a few years the United States would be ready to deploy the first solid-fuel ICBM, the Minuteman. This missile would be one of the greatest technological breakthroughs in American history.

          Questions for Reading 1
          1. Define the Cold War. How was it different from other "hot" wars or armed conflicts?
          2. Why did the launch of Sputnik cause Americans to fear for their own security?
          3. Why was President Eisenhower worried about increasing military expenditures?
          4. What actions and programs did President Eisenhower mention in his State of the Union Address that the United States was taking to regain their military advantage over the Soviets?

          Reading 1 was compiled from The Missile Plains: Frontline of America's Cold War, Historic Resource Study, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota (Omaha: Mead & Hunt Inc., 2003) Downing, Taylor and Issacs, Jeremy, The Cold War: An Illustrated History 1945-1991 (Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1998).
          ¹ State of the Union Address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. Congress, January 9, 1958.

          Determining the Facts

          Reading 2: Development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Deployment of the Minuteman


          To understand why the Minuteman Missile was such an astounding innovation it is vital to first learn about the missile systems which preceded it. At first the Soviets were able to outperform the United States due to the massive amount of time, energy, and money they put into their program. By 1957 Soviet efforts had resulted in the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7 Semyorka. The R-7 missile relied on liquid fuel and four strap-on booster rockets to propel the vehicle after its initial launch. Though the R-7 was considered a great innovation it was burdened by outrageous costs and other inefficiencies. For instance, large launch sites had to be constructed in extremely remote areas. These sites cost up to five percent of the Soviet defense budget. The R-7 also took 20 hours of preparation on the launch pad before it could be launched. American bombers in Alaska, Asia, or Europe would have more than enough time to destroy the rocket while it sat on the launch pad. Nonetheless, it seemed to Americans that the Soviets had once again taken the technological lead.
          Unknown by many Americans, a behind-the-scenes effort was underway to develop an even better missile system for the U.S. Air Force leadership enacted a special branch known as the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) to oversee the new missile program. They contracted with a corporation known as Convair to develop a ballistic missile. This weapon--later known as the Atlas--was to carry a nuclear warhead within 300 yards of a target 5,000 miles away. President Eisenhower accelerated the program after he had taken office in 1953. Experts believed that the program would take around six years to produce a workable missile.

          The main problem with liquid fuel systems was the danger caused by the highly flammable fuel. Because this fuel was not inserted until just before a launch, it had to be stored safely until that very moment. The slightest spark could cause an explosion which might endanger the lives of on-site crews and destroy the entire launch facility. Another issue was the heavy weight of the fuel, which caused problems in getting the rocket off the ground. The first Atlas was gigantic, weighing 267,000 pounds. This weight was mainly due to the heavy fuel and massive engines which gave the rocket enough thrust to propel it into flight. By 1958, an Atlas had been successfully tested and by the next year several were placed in the first active missile fields. Yet the Air Force was not totally satisfied with the Atlas system. The liquid fuel caused several accidents. In addition, the time taken to pump the fuel into the rocket caused at least a 15 minute delay before lift off. The Soviets were developing submarine launched ballistic missiles which when fired from just off the Atlantic or Pacific coasts could destroy Atlas missiles before they were ready for launch. Fortunately the Air Force had been working on a new top secret missile program, which would solve many of these problems. It involved a concept known as solid fuel and an innovative weapon which came to be known as the Minuteman.

          During the mid-1950s scientists were already developing solid-fuel missiles to replace the dangerous liquid-fueled Atlas, and its follow-up missile system, the Titan. Solid fuel had a number of advantages, including safety, cost effectiveness, and reliability. In 1958 the Air Force approved a design for a solid-fueled missile. This missile was the brainchild of Lt. Col. Edward Hall, who compiled the knowledge from existing studies and technologies to develop a new and improved design. With solid-fuel technology a missile would be able to lie dormant for long periods of time with limited maintenance and upkeep. The cost of production would be about one-fifth the cost of an Atlas. Most importantly, it had the ability to be remotely controlled. Within minutes of receiving a launch command it could be airborne to strike targets in the central Soviet Union. Hall named it the "Minuteman" because of this quick strike ability. As an added bonus the Soviets were far behind in developing solid-fuel rockets.

          Both American politicians and military planners wanted the Minuteman operational and in the field as soon as possible because of a perceived "missile gap" with the Soviets. Less than three weeks after the launch of Sputnik in late 1957, a panel had told the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that the Soviets would be mass producing missiles by decade's end. Conversely, the United States would be hard pressed to deploy a workable system with a few missiles. In the presidential election of 1960, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy won the election against Richard Nixon in part because of the perceived "missile gap" and its devastating consequences. Though the "missile gap" would eventually be proven false, public perception and political pressure resulted in accelerating the schedule for the Minuteman project. The Minuteman had been set for operational use by 1963, but a monumental effort by the Air Force and its contracting partners resulted in the first missile field activated on October 24th, 1962, at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

          The first Minuteman missiles went on high alert--awaiting a possible warfare situation--at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a crisis brought about by the Soviet attempt to deploy missiles in Cuba. Cuba had been an ally of the United States for decades, but in the late 1950s a revolution led to a communist government taking control of the country. Americans could feel communism literally knocking at the nation's back door. Cuba was less then 100 miles from the southern mainland of the United States. This could have resulted in strikes against the southern United States with only perhaps a minute of warning. President Kennedy issued orders for a naval quarantine of Cuba, whereby Soviet ships would not be allowed to pass through with vital military supplies. The quarantine was really a blockade that could have been interpreted by the Soviets as a declaration of war. Fortunately for both sides, cooler heads prevailed. The Soviets decided not to challenge such a show of force and a negotiated settlement was reached. The Soviets agreed to remove all of their missile installations in Cuba. For their part, the United States also agreed to dismantle missiles they had installed on the Soviet border in Turkey. The world had barely avoided a nuclear war.

          The United States continued to fear for its security, but realized that the Minuteman weapons system had been a valuable asset during the crisis. President Kennedy referred to it as his "Ace in the Hole." Over the next two years, hundreds of Minuteman Missile silos and support structures would be constructed across the Great Plains landscape, including the state of South Dakota. This missile defense system was not necessarily meant for first-strike capability, but rather to uphold the basic Cold War strategy of "mutually assured destruction." In other words, a nuclear war could not be won. If a war was started (for example, a missile was launched to strike the U.S.) by the Soviet Union, we had the capability to strike back quickly causing both sides total destruction.

          Questions for Reading 2
          1. What were some of the drawbacks of liquid fuel missile systems? What were the benefits of solid fuel systems? Compare and contrast the two.
          2. Do think Atlas missiles could have been deployed in large numbers? Why or why not?
          3. What was the "missile gap?" Why did it play such a large role in the accelerated development and deployment of the Minuteman?
          4. What impact do you think the Cuban Missile Crisis had upon the Minuteman program?
          5. Why were Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles so important to national defense?
          6. How did the missile defense system uphold the Cold War strategy of "mutually assured destruction?" Does this seem like an effective defense system? Why or why not?

          Reading 2 was compiled from Kort, Michael, The Columbia Guide to the Cold War. The Columbia Guides to American History and Cultures Series (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998) Special Resource Study for Minuteman Missile Sites: Management Alternatives and Environmental Assessment, Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force Legacy Resource Management Program (Denver: National Park Service, 1995) The Missile Plains: Frontline of America's Cold War, Historic Resource Study, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota (Omaha: Mead & Hunt Inc., 2003).

          Determining the Facts

          Reading 3: Silent Soldiers: Missileer Duty

          By the fall of 1963 there were 150 Minuteman Missile Launch Facilities (silos) dispersed across western South Dakota. For every 10 silos there was a support structure known as a Launch Control Facility (LCF). This building had a facility manager, cook and several security police who were stationed on the topside to provide support for two missileers stationed in a Launch Control Center (LCC) capsule 31 feet below the surface. These topside personnel worked for three straight days followed by another three days off. The missileers in the underground Launch Control Center were on duty for 24-hour shifts at a time. About 80 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota and Ellsworth Air Force Base was Launch Control Facility Delta-01. This LCF was operational for nearly 30 years. The Air Force personnel on duty here experienced some of the tensest moments during the Cold War. Though they were not on the front lines of international incidents, they were on the frontlines of America's Cold War defenses. These were the forgotten soldiers who performed these shifts year after year.

          Of all the duties performed by Air Force personnel at Delta-01 there was none more important than that of the missile combat crew which occupied the LCC. The crew consisted of a commander and deputy who were both military officers. The capsule in which they were stationed, buried 31 feet below the surface, was both their living and work area for an entire 24-hour shift. The missileers underwent intense training for several months before they were allowed to go on duty in an active missile field. Not only were they expected to learn a mind boggling amount of technical data about the Minuteman system, but they also had to be psychologically stable. Their jobs could possibly be one of the most stressful in the Air Force. Once they were properly trained and on duty they were expected to be no less then perfect at their jobs.

          A typical day for a launch crew stationed at Delta-01 would start early in the morning when they arrived at Ellsworth. They would first undergo a security briefing about the international situation around the world. It was during this briefing that they would be informed if there was any reason that the base might be placed on higher alert status. They would then drive an official Air Force vehicle out to the LCF. Usually the drive to Delta-01 would take about an hour and a half. Once they arrived at the security fence surrounding the LCF they would radio in their dispatch information to the Flight Security Controller who monitored the grounds from the Security Control Center. This information was checked for accuracy then the gate would be opened by remote control. The missileers would pull up to a door adjacent to the Security Control Center to have their identification checked. Once they had been properly identified they were allowed into the building. The missileers would then call down to the missile crew already on duty in the underground capsule to authenticate secret codes. They must have the correct codes or it would mean a trip all the way back to base for another set of codes.

          From the Security Control Center they would then be allowed entry into the elevator leading down to the capsule. When they arrived underground the deputy crew member already in the capsule would open the eight ton blast door to allow them in. This door was to be kept shut at all times unless someone had the proper authentication codes to enter the capsule. When passing by the door they would see painted on the wall: "No Lone Zone, Two Man Concept Mandatory." This meant that no one could ever be in the capsule alone. All areas of extremely high security in the missile field adhered to the two man concept. Being in such an area alone would result in the loss of one's job.

          The off-going missile crew always gave the new crew a short 10 minute briefing which consisted of among other things the handing over of two .38 revolvers for use if any intruders entered the capsule. The crew going off duty would then exit the capsule and the new crew's shift would officially begin. Former missileer Andy Knight recalled years later what a typical work shift was like:

          Ninety percent or ninety-five percent of the time, usually we'd just sit there. We would read magazines. Study for the professional military programs, or some people would work on their master's degree. It was a great time, at that time. And at that time they didn't allow any kind of t.v. sets or anything like that down there. It was just the crew. And, as I said before, there was one cot there and one crew member could go to sleep. And usually the person who had the graveyard shift--the midnight to six o'clock in the morning shift--usually that person would crawl into the cot right after dinner. Usually we'd have dinner right around five o'clock, so that person'd get in the cot and go to sleep from five, and then from five until about midnight. And then the deputy, at midnight then we'd swap off. And, you'd get into, it was like a hot bunk and you'd sleep until about six o'clock in the morning. That was generally what took our tour.¹

          Even though many shifts were spent passing time, the missileers knew from their training that their jobs were of the utmost importance. As Knight recalled:

          it was probably the most, most responsibility that I've ever had in my life. And, we were tested constantly. And, the tests that we were, whether it was, whether it was multiple choice or written exams. Or whether it was actual training scenarios in the simulator, we always had on the written exams one hundred percent was passing, if you missed one question, you failed, and you had to start all over again. So there was no room for error.²

          During their shift the missileers received coded messages from Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Nebraska. Though the crew may have been stationed at Ellsworth they took their orders from SAC. The most important and feared command they could ever receive was known as an Emergency War Order (EWO). This order would mean the missiles were to be launched. The following description is a detailed account of executing such an order:

          In the Delta One capsule, an alarm would have alerted the two-person missile crew of those directives. Immediately, over the speaker system, the launch control officers would hear a coded message, giving the command to launch. After verifying the message's authenticity, the launch officers would unlock a small, red, "Emergency War Order" safe above the deputy commander's control panel. Within the box were two launch keys. Each officer would take one key, and insert it into his or her control console. The missileers would then strap themselves into their console chairs and begin the final countdown.At the end of the countdown sequence, the officers would turn their launch keys. The Air Force employed several fail-safes to prevent an unauthorized missile launch. For example, both officers had to turn their launch keys in unison. Because the launch switches were 12 feet apart, it was impossible for one person to turn both keys at once. The final command to launch also required another "vote" (two missileers performing the same procedure at another Launch Control Center in the missile field) from outside of Delta One.

          When the second vote came in, the LAUNCH IN PROCESS display would illuminate. Explosive gas generators would then push open the 90-ton launch doors covering the ten Delta Flight missile silos, and the nuclear-tipped Minutemen would begin streaking toward their targets half a world away. As each missile blasted from its silo, its upper umbilical cable would sever, triggering the MISSILE AWAY light on the commander's control panel.

          In less than five minutes, the Delta One missileers would have completed their mission. The Minuteman missiles would take another half hour to reach their targets.³

          Though missileers never executed an actual launch there was always the distinct possibility that such a moment could come. As the Emergency War Order proceedings illustrate, the missileers had one of the toughest jobs in the Air Force. For nearly 30 years at Delta-01 they worked shifts awaiting orders which fortunately never arrived. These silent soldiers went relatively unnoticed by the general public or even their own fellow Air Force personnel. They protected America from armed aggressors thousands of miles from home and the end result was a valuable contribution to victory in the Cold War.

          In 1991, less then two years after the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union began to crumble. The Soviet economy had been faltering for years. The cost of keeping up with advanced American military weapons systems such as the Minuteman had led the Soviet economy to the brink of bankruptcy. The nation's infrastructure began to fall apart. For decades, the Soviets had barely been able to take care of its military needs, but this came at the expense of their citizen's standard of living. By the beginning of the 1990s the Soviet people began to grow increasingly restless as they saw democracy and free enterprise economics take hold in the nations of Eastern Europe that had once professed their loyalty to communism. In a remarkable series of events which included street protests, rallies, and the attempted overthrow of leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union finally dissolved in December of 1991. The Cold War ended with world civilization intact. The arms race subsided and many of the Minuteman Missile facilities were slated for deactivation, including the Minuteman Missiles in South Dakota. These missiles, which had acted as silent sentinels guarding the United States for nearly three decades, had completed their mission.

          Questions for Reading 3
          1. Why would the missile combat crew have the most stressful job at Delta-01?
          2. What is the primary mission of a missileer's duty?
          3. Why do think there were so many security procedures for missileers? Do you think other jobs in the Air Force require secret codes and high security? If so, what might those jobs be?
          4. What role do you think missileers played in both protecting the citizens of the United States from nuclear attack and helping the nation eventually win the Cold War?
          5. Why do you think missileers did not receive the glory and accolades that other military personnel have?

          Reading 3 was compiled from Knight, Andy, Interview by Dr. Steven Bucklin. Typed transcript. May 19, 1999 Manson, Craig, Interview by Sue Lamie. Typed transcript. June 27, 2002 Special Resource Study for Minuteman Missile Sites: Management Alternatives and Environmental Assessment. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior, Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force Legacy Resource Management Program (Denver: National Park Service, 1995) The Missile Plains: Frontline of America's Cold War, Historic Resource Study, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota (Omaha: Mead & Hunt Inc., 2003).

          ¹ Knight, Andy, Interview by Dr. Steven Bucklin. Typed transcript. May 19, 1999, 17-18.
          ² Knight, 5.
          ³
          Special Resource Study for Minuteman Missile Sites: Management Alternatives and Environmental Assessment, 51.

          Visual Evidence

          Photo 1: Sputnik, 1957.

          It was this seemingly odd looking sphere which would eventually lead the United States to accelerate their ballistic rocket program. Sputnik meant "fellow traveler." It was the first of many Soviet launched satellites. More importantly this beach ball sized object showed the world that the Soviet's reigned supreme in their missile technologies. It was not really the Sputnik satellite which worried the United States instead it was the R-7 launch vehicle which propelled it into space. How long would it would be until the R-7 brought a nuclear bomb to the American mainland? After Sputnik it seemed just a matter of time.

          Questions for Photo 1
          1. Describe the size, shape and other notable physical details of Sputnik? Does it look like a technological wonder?
          2. How do you think this photo was taken? Does it look real? Why or why not?
          3. Do think Americans had reason to be scared of Sputnik? Would its successful launch have scared you?

          Visual Evidence

          Photo 2: President Kennedy with Strategic Air Commander General Thomas S. Power at Vandenberg Air Force Base, 1962.

          (U.S. Air Force, History Division)

          Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was the main testing/training base for Minuteman Missiles and their operations. President John F. Kennedy visited the base during the early 1960s to show his support for the Minuteman program. It was during Kennedy's term as president that the Minuteman became the United States leading nuclear missile force. He referred to it as his "Ace in the Hole."

          Questions for Photo 2
          1. Why do you think presidential support was vital to the Minuteman program?
          2. What do think President Kennedy meant by his quote that the Minuteman was his "Ace in the Hole?"

          Visual Evidence

          Photo 3: Launch Control Center under construction, 1963.

          (Library of Congress)


          Effects Of Space Race On Education

          Dov Greenwood
          American History AP-3
          Mr. DiBartolo
          6/10/16
          The Effects of the Space Race on Education in the U.S.
          The Space Race was one of the grandest stages of the Cold War, a quasi-war between the United States and Soviet Russia that pushed both the boundaries of both countries’ resources and forcing advancement in battles for technological and cultural superiority. The Space Race in particular propelled innovation in sectors that previously had not been considered in competition with Russia, including astronomy, science research, and intellectual ability. One of the greatest impacts of the Space Race in the United States is its effects on the country’s philosophy of and attitude towards education. The space race pumped more money and enthusiasm.

          Many teachers became re-energized and put a focus on upgrading their curricula.16 Originally, curriculum reform was focused around homework according to news reports, the Russians had four hours worth every night, and American teachers paled in comparison. However, after Detlev Bronk, a prominent American educator, gave a speech before a Senate subcommittee advocating a change from rote memorization to concept learning, the focus of educational reform shifted once more. Curricula now began to place a focus on scientific inquiry over classical languages, and more honors and fast-track courses were added to most schools.17 In addition, reforms included a focus on hands-on lab experience so that students could become more intimately acquainted with their desired field of.

          With the internet, students of any grade level can enroll in online courses in virtually any subject area--and many times, free of charge. A recent study has shown that thirty-two percent of higher education students take at least one online course, and seventy-seven percent of teachers agree that these online courses can often provide education equal to or better than traditional classes.21 In particular, Khan Academy--a popular learning resource for high schoolers--has more than 6.5 million unique users per month from the United States.


          Watch the video: The Sputnik Crisis 1957 The Cold War Film Trailer