The Cold War was a time of intense political paranoia and fear, but it also produced incredible scientific advances. Many of the technologies that make our daily lives work — like the Internet, GPS and reliable transistors — came out of the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Even before Sputnik, Americans were aware that the Soviets were rapidly catching up to the United States in scientific capability. The Trinity test in 1945 and two atomic bombs dropped on Japan had given the United States an enormous advantage in industrial and military power. The Soviets soon realized that victory in a protracted conventional war could not be sustained, so they began investing heavily in atomic weapons and space technology.
Soviet espionage had helped them steal information and technology, but they had to invest much more to keep up with the Americans. The Manhattan project had created the first nuclear weapon, but it took four years for the USSR to follow suit with its own atom bomb.
The Soviet launch of Sputnik stoked fears that the United States was falling behind, and this led to the acceleration of American space and weapons programs. Both countries worked on civilian and military dual-use technology, including a variety of miniature recording devices that eventually became the smartphone and Go-Pro cameras we use today.
Fear of direct combat likely prevented any direct battles between the two superpowers, but the space and arms races did produce remarkable technological innovations. Today, nuclear energy is a viable power source, and the technology that put astronauts on the moon was developed during the Cold War.