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Space Race Politics: Rockets & Rhetoric   

Year Granted: 2012
Institute: Victoria University of Wellington CEC
Course code 12C035A


This course explores the politics behind the greatest technological race in human history - the Space Race. It analyses the roots of the Space Race in the closing days of the Second World War and traces it through the ideological one-upmanship of the Cold War to its greatest height, the moon landing in 1969. The subsequent Soviet achievements in space will lead us to ask the question - did the United States really win the Space Race?

Target Audience:
This seminar is for anyone with an interest in history, the Space Race or the Cold War.

Learning Objectives:
By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a working knowledge of the Space Race and its key events;
  • Understand the historical roots of the Space Race and its place within the politics of the Cold War;
  • Question the official, glorified story of the moon landings;
  • Analyse and interpret historical evidence

Course Outline:

Session 1: 'The Enemy of my Friend'

  • Part One: Hitler's 'wonder-weapon' - the history of rocketry to 1945
  • Part Two: Scrambling for spoils - the onset of the Cold War, 1945-1949

Seminar 2: 'Under a Soviet Moon'

  • Part One: 'Dual-use' technology - nuclear brinksmanship and the race to space, 1949-1957
  • Part Two: Technocracy and prestige - the first man in space, 1957-1961

Seminar 3: 'But why, some say, the Moon?'

  • Part One: Dissension in the ranks - the Soviet and American moonshots, 1961-1967
  • Part Two: The Knockout Blow? Moon landings and space stations, 1967 - 1975

Course Format:
Two-hour presentations are held on a Tuesday evening over three weeks. Sessions are interactive and discussion is encouraged.

There will be a short break half-way through each session. You are welcome to bring a drink or something to eat if you wish.

Matthew Cunningham is a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington studying radical conservative movements during the Great Depression. He has tutored and lectured at an undergraduate level and has had several articles published, one of which dealt with the politics of the Space Race during the Kennedy administration.

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