What was more important, the arms race or the space race?
Both the arms race and the space race were important events in the Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, the arms race probably was more important than the space race for most Americans.
Many people were very concerned about the acceleration of the development of nuclear weapons. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were stockpiling their arsenal of nuclear weapons. Under President Eisenhower’s massive retaliation and brinkmanship policies, we were using nuclear weapons as a deterrent to Soviet expansion. For example, we increased our supply of atomic bombs from 1000 to 18,000 during Eisenhower’s presidency. Americans lived in fear of a nuclear war on a regular basis.
While the space race was important, the threat posed by the Soviet Union being the first into space was far less dangerous than the threat posed by the arms race. When the Soviet Union launched the first satellite in space, we were worried that we had fallen behind the Soviet Union in the space competition. We immediately put more money into math, science, and foreign language education. We also created NASA, our space agency. However, most Americans were far more concerned about the fear of nuclear war than any threat posed by the Soviet Union being the first country to launch a satellite into space.