GCSE and IGCSE History Revision

Laika the dog

Laika the dog: the first animal in orbit

On the 3rd November 1957, Laika the dog became the first animal to enter orbit around the Earth when she was launched into space on board the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2.

Laika was never intended to return as the technology to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere had not yet been developed. However, the launch of a canine into space was seen by the Russian scientists as a precursor to human spaceflight in order to determine the effect of launch and prolonged weightlessness on a living passenger. Laika survived the launch, but died due to overheating as a result of a malfunction in the temperature control system.

Laika was a stray dog who was found on the streets of Moscow. Strays from Moscow were specifically chosen on the assumption that they had already learned how to deal with extreme temperatures and prolonged periods without food. However, Laika and two other dogs still had to undergo extension training ahead of the mission. This included long periods of time in cramped conditions, extreme G-forces on centrifuges, and exposure to loud noises to simulate the conditions of spaceflight.

Throughout the mission, scientists on the ground monitored data coming from sensors attached to Laika. The readings indicated significant stress, but she survived the launch and made four circuits of the Earth before dying of overheating. The exact cause of her death was only confirmed in 2002.

Laika’s death raised ethical questions about the use of animals in scientific research since the spacecraft was not designed to be retrievable. She was, therefore, knowingly sent a mission from which she would not return.

Kennedy’s announcement of a plan for manned moon landing

On the 25th May 1961, American President John F. Kennedy made the announcement to a joint session of Congress that he had set his sights on a manned moon landing before the end of the decade.

To many people, including some personnel at NASA, Kennedy’s address seemed ridiculous. The USA had only sent its first man into space 20 days earlier and, although Alan Shepard’s spaceflight aboard Freedom 7 was a huge success, the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin had already become the first man in space three weeks before that. Taking on the USSR at a technological game that they were already leading appeared reckless.

An underlying issue was that, as part of his election campaign, Kennedy had promised to outperform the Soviet Union in the fields of space exploration and missile defence. In his famed television debate with Richard Nixon, Kennedy had mocked the fact that Nixon was proud of the USA being ahead of the USSR in terms of colour television while trailing in terms of rocket thrust. Gagarin’s flight had proved to the world that the USSR was currently ‘winning’ the Space Race, and so put pressure on Kennedy to increase spending on the Apollo space program.  Having received a memo from Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson in which he reported that the USA was unlikely to ever outperform the USSR under the current spending arrangements, Kennedy launched the largest peacetime financial commitment ever made.

The $24 billion dollars did work, however, and Apollo 11 achieved Kennedy’s goal by landing on the moon on 20th July 1969.

Telstar and the first satellite TV broadcast

Overview of Telstar and the world’s first satellite TV broadcast

The world’s first satellite television broadcast took place on July 11th 1962 when the Telstar satellite relayed an image of a flag outside its base station at Andover Earth Station to the Pleumeur-Bodou earth station in France.

The 190 French technicians successfully tracked Telstar during the 20 minute period that Telstar was visible to both the USA and France and watched the broadcast at 47 minutes past midnight. The first public satellite broadcast took place almost two weeks later, on July 23rd.

Telstar was launched almost five years after the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was put into low Earth orbit by the USSR. For this reason Telstar is seen as being part of the Space Race between the USA and the USSR, but it’s interesting to note that Telstar was actually an international project to develop trans-Atlantic communication involving AT&T, Bell Telephone Laboratories and NASA in the USA as well as the GPO and National PTT who were responsible for communication technology in the UK and France respectively.

Telstar was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on the day before the first broadcast, with costs shared between the international partners. Telstar was therefore also the first privately sponsored space launch. However, despite partly being a product of the Cold War it was also a victim. High-altitude nuclear tests had created artificial radiation belts that overwhelmed the electronics on Telstar and led to irreparable damage that caused the satellite to completely fail nine months later. By the time it went out of service, Telstar I had relayed over 400 separate transmissions.

The Berlin Wall

The construction of the Berlin Wall

Beginning at midnight on the 13th August 1961, East German police and army began to close the border with West Berlin. The barbed wire and mesh barrier that was constructed overnight was gradually replaced with a virtually impregnable ring of reinforced concrete that ran 155km around West Berlin.

The border between East and West Germany – sometimes referred to as the inner-German border – had been closed since 1952, although the crossing between East and West Berlin remained open. This easy access proved highly problematic for the Communist government of East Germany, since people comparing the two parts of the city found West Berlin to be much more appealing.

Berlin became a focal point for East Germans who wanted to move to the West, and by 1961 an estimated 20% of the entire population had emigrated. The majority were young, educated, and skilled professionals. This so-called “brain drain” seriously depleted the workforce, and was hugely damaging to the political credibility of East Germany.

The erection of the Berlin Wall was intended to put a stop both of these problems, although it was presented to the East German people as the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart”. The East German leader, Walter Ulbricht, had even denied any intention of building a wall just two months earlier despite pressuring USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev to support him doing just that.

The construction of the Wall turned Berlin overnight from the easiest way to cross between East and West into the most difficult. It cut people off from their jobs, and divided families. The crossing was not opened again for 28 years.

The Berlin Wall

The construction of the Berlin Wall

A short film documenting the construction of the Berlin Wall, featuring interviews with people who were affected by it.

Berlin wall memorial on street

Interpretations of the Berlin Wall

This video compares the West’s and East’s interpretations of the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall during the Cold War

US break relations with Cuba

Why the USA cut diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961

On the 3rd January 1961, the United States of America severed its diplomatic relationship with Cuba and closed the American embassy in Havana. The move came in the wake of the nationalisation of industries in Cuba that were owned by US citizens, which increased as the American government gradually introduced a trade embargo.

The overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement heralded a dramatic change in US-Cuban relations. American President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially recognised the new socialist government, but the situation quickly deteriorated as Cuba introduced agrarian reforms and the nationalisation of US-owned interests.

In response the USA stopped buying Cuban sugar and banned the sale of oil, so Castro’s government turned to the USSR for assistance. This led to a further deterioration of relations with America. However, a complete trade embargo only came about after Cuba nationalised the three American-owned oil refineries in the country in October 1960.

Further nationalisations over the next three months – including that of private property owned by Americans – led the Eisenhower administration to cut all diplomatic ties with Cuba on the 3rd January. Meanwhile, a group of Cuban exiles in the USA, known as Brigade 2506, were being trained by the CIA to overthrow Castro’s government. This plan, which resulted in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, was followed through by John F. Kennedy after he became the 35th President of the USA less than three weeks after the closure the embassy.

Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States were finally restored on the 20th July 2015, although a trade embargo still exists.

Brigade 2506

The Bay of Pigs invasion: an overview

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was launched by the CIA-sponsored paramilitary group Brigade 2506.

The invasion saw over 1,400 American-trained Cuban exiles attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. Castro had come to power in 1959 during the Cuban Revolution which toppled the previous president, General Fulgencio Batista. The new government quickly began introducing agrarian reforms and nationalising US-owned interests. These actions led to the USA imposing a trade embargo against Cuba from late 1960, after which Castro began to further develop his relationship with the USSR.

As concerns grew over these developments, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorised the CIA to begin devising a way to overthrow Castro. He allocated $13.1 million for them to begin training counter-revolutionary Cuban exiles and, on 4 April 1961, his successor John F. Kennedy authorised the final invasion plan.

While the seaborne invasion force gathered in Guatemala, a smaller group of Cuban exiles attacked Cuban airfields on 15 April using CIA-obtained B-26 bombers painted to appear like they were captured Cuban planes. That evening the Cuban government tabled a motion to the United Nations, accusing the United States of being behind the attacks. Consequently a series of airfield attacks planned for the early hours of the 17 April were cancelled by Kennedy.

The amphibious assault went ahead as planned but quickly began to go wrong. The exiles from Brigade 2506 were pinned on the beach by a counterattack from the Cuban Army and assorted militiamen, leading to 114 exile deaths and the capture of over a thousand others. In the aftermath, Cuba developed even closer links with the USSR that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year.

Cuban Missile Crisis – Mr Kennedy and Mr Khrushchev