The University of Southampton

HIST2064 The Space Age

Module Overview

In this module, we will be exploring the causes, course and meaning of ‘the space age’ – when voyages beyond the earth’s atmosphere and onwards to other worlds first became plausible and then an accomplished fact. We will consider the following questions: When, and in what circumstances, did space exploration develop as a goal? How did spaceflight come to be adopted as an instrument and expression of state policy in the Soviet Union and the United States? Why did the United States win the race to land a man on the moon, and why was there no subsequent landing mission to Mars? What have we learnt about the solar system and the wider cosmos as a result of ‘the space age’? How did ‘the space age’ affect the way life was lived back on earth? Do we still live in a ‘space age’, or have the grand ambitions of the first rocket pioneers for the conquest of space been surrendered to terrestrial priorities?

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

- Study the origins of ‘the space age,’ focusing upon the inspirations and actions of the early German, Soviet and American rocket pioneers, war-time and post-war missile programs, and growing state interest in the development of a space capability - Examine the interlinked histories of the Soviet and American space programmes, from the Soviet success of Sputnik through the American landing on the moon, unmanned missions to the inner and outer planets, the establishment of Soviet space stations and the development of the US space shuttle, to the end of the Cold War - Explore the broader effects of ‘the space age’ in the United States – in terms of popular culture, social policy, environmental consciousness, spirituality, and conceptions of the cosmos - Assess in what sense we might speak of the ‘end’ of ‘the space age’, and if so, when that should be dated.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The circumstances in which Soviet and American space capabilities first developed
  • The interlinked histories of the Soviet and American space programmes from Sputnik to the end of the Cold War
  • The effects of ‘the space age’ in American society, culture and thought
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain the rise of ‘the space age’
  • Conceptualize the relationship between the American and Soviet space programmes Assess the impact of ‘the space age’ in American society, culture and thought
  • Analyse post-Cold War developments in spaceflight in the light of the history of ‘the space age’
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Apply analytical techniques to a wide range of evidence
  • Formulate and communicate critical judgments coherently and effectively, in formal written assessments, illustrated presentations, class research exercises and oral discussion
  • Carry-out small-scale research projects, working in small groups and individually with a large degree of independence
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Synthesize a broad range of sources to explain the causes, course and meaning of key historical developments
  • Critically analyse and cross-reference the arguments of a variety of authorities, including popular writers, academic authorities, and historical participants
  • Integrate object-based learning techniques into the interpretation of broader historical trends and themes


This module explores the causes, course and meaning of ‘the space age,’ focusing in particular on the period between the launch of the first earth satellite (Sputnik) in 1957 and the end of the Cold War. The module will explore the following: What is space? Earth and its cosmos before the space age Early rocket theory and experimentation from Tsiolkovsky to the V-2 The evolution of post-war missile programmes in the US and USSR Spaceflight in popular culture before and after Sputnik Sputnik and its policy consequences First ventures in manned spaceflight: Gagarin, Shepard and Glenn John F. Kennedy and the race to the moon The birth of satellite communications Space and the promise of technocracy Unmanned lunar and planetary exploration in the 1960s and 1970s How America won the moon race The militarization of space? What next? The politics of spaceflight in the late 1960s and early 1970s Spaceflight and ‘earth consciousness’ Utopian and dystopian visions of spaceflight Religion and the space age Spaceflight since the 1970s Space exploration and modern cosmology

Special Features

This module is intended as an experiment with placing lecture material online and using the freed- up contact hours for other educational activities, particularly class research exercises, a field trip and the preparation, practice and delivery of presentations in a format which will create a collective resource for exam revision. With respect to the field trip, the Science Museum in London is accessible to those in wheelchairs as are modes of transportation to it.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module will be taught through a combination of online lecture content, fieldwork, seminar discussion of key texts and documents, structured classroom research exercises and formal, illustrated student presentations. Lecture content will be available in the form of detailed Powerpoint slides available on Blackboard. Each student will attend a weekly one-hour seminar focused on discussion of key primary documents and secondary readings. Each student will also attend a weekly two-hour class. In the initial two-hour classes, small groups of students will be set their own research task (for example, to explore the establishment of planetariums in major American cities in the inter-war era), to be accomplished using online sources, with the goal of reporting back on process and outcome to the entire class in the final half-hour. One week in mid-semester, this class will be replaced with a field trip to the Science Museum in London. In the second half of the semester, non-seminar contact time will be focused on the preparation, practicing and delivery of formal individual presentations, subject to be chosen from a distributed menu of options. This will include a plenary session on how to deliver a presentation using Powerpoint; individual tutorials on researching specific presentation topics; presentation rehearsals and group feedback (weeks 8 & 9); and the presentations themselves (weeks 10 & 11). The resulting PowerPoint presentations will be placed on Blackboard for collective use.

Completion of assessment task40
Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Follow-up work100
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Kendrick Oliver (2013). To Touch the Face of God: The Sacred, the Profane and the American Space Program, 1957-1975. 

Gerard J. DeGroot (2006). Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest. 

Roger D. Launius (2013). Exploring the Solar System: the History and Science of Planetary Exploration. 

Chris Gainor (2008). To a Distant Day: The Rocket Pioneers. 

Other useful online primary source collections include the Johnson Space Center’s oral history interviews with many leading participants in the US space programme.

Robert A. Divine (1983). The Sputnik Challenge. 

Michael J. Neufeld (2007). Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War. 

Robert Poole (2008). Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth. 

Walter McDougall (1985). ...the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. 

James T. Andrews (2009). Red Cosmos: K.E. Tsiolkovskii, Grandfather of Soviet Rocketry. 

Matthew Brzezinski (2007). Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age. 

Howard McCurdy (1997). Space and the American Imagination. 

Asif A. Siddiqi (2000). Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1954-1974. 

Paul Dickson (2009). A Dictionary of the Space Age. 

These include the NASA History Office’s key eight-volume series of primary documents on the US civil space program Exploring the Unknown (ed. John Logsdon). All volumes are available online.

The NASA History Office makes virtually all texts published in its NASA History Series available from its home page.

Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell (1984). On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet 1958-1978. 

Steven J. Dick, ed (2008). Remembering the Space Age. 

T.A. Heppenheimer (1999). The Space Shuttle Decision: NASA’s Search for a Reusable Space Vehicle. 

Matthew Hersch (2012). Inventing the American Astronaut. 

David Clary (2003). Rocket Man: Robert H. Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age. 

Dennis Piszkiewicz (1995). The Nazi Rocketeers: Dreams of Space and Crimes of War. 

Tom Wolfe (1979). The Right Stuff. 

William E. Burrows (1998). This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age. 

John Logsdon (2010). John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon. 

There are also numerous mission transcripts and flight journals available online.



MethodPercentage contribution
Article  (1000 words) 25%
Essay  (3000 words) 50%
Individual Presentation  (8 minutes) 25%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Field Trips

The field trip to the Science Museum will cost around £35 (one day travelcard with 16-25 railcard). However, the History Department may help subsidize that cost as its resources allow.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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