The Reasons for the USSR's Initial Interest in Space

The defense of our country and our ability to deter imperialist aggression depends on our nuclear and thermonuclear fire power. ... We were the first to launch rockets into space; we exploded the most powerful nuclear devices; we accomplished those feats first, ahead of the United States, England, and France. Our accomplishments and our obvious might had a sobering effect on the aggressive forces in the United States, England, France, and of course, inside the Bonn government. They knew that they had lost their chance to strike at us with impunity.

Premier Nikita Khrushchev

By launching Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, as the payload of a ballistic missile, the Soviet Union affirmed to America that they were capable of launching a nuclear missile at the US. The USSR hoped that the fear this caused would keep the US from attacking them.

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Sputnik 1, the First Artificial Satellite