This day in history, August 26, 1957, the Soviet Union announced that it successfully tested an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that can fire into “any part of the world.”
The Soviet Union announcement caused great concern in the United States, and started a national debate over the “missile gap” between America and Russia.
For years after World War II, both the United States and the Soviet Union had been trying to perfect a long-range missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Both American and Russian scientists raced to improve the range and accuracy of missiles similar to the V-1 and V-2 rockets that Germany used in World War II to pummel Great Britain.
In July 1957, the United States seemed to win the race when the Atlas, an ICBM with a speed of up to 20,000 miles an hour and an effective range of 5,000 miles, was ready to be tested. The test, however, failed miserably. The missile rose only about 5,000 feet into the air, tumbled, and plunged to earth.
Just a month later, the Soviets announced that their own ICBM had been tested and was successful It had “covered a huge distance in a brief time,” and “landed in the target area.” No details were given in the Russian announcement and some commentators in the United States had expressed doubts that the ICBM test was a success. Nevertheless, the Soviet possession of this “ultimate weapon,” coupled with recent successful atomic and hydrogen bomb tests by the Russians raised concerns in America. If the Soviets did indeed perfect their ICBM, no part of the United States would be completely safe from possible atomic attack.
Following the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, the United States decided to accelerate their missile and space programs. John F. Kennedy accused the Eisenhower administration of creating a “missile gap” between the two countries.