On October 4th, 1957, the Russians launched the first ever artificial satellite, The Sputnik, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in the southernmost part of Kazakhstan.
This groundbreaking project revealed how technologically advanced the Communists were back then. In fact, this publicity stunt aggravated, and ultimately motivated the United States. On top of that, the Sputnik was equipped with transmitters so that it could broadcast its arrival to everyone below, creating both wonder and shock among the people.
America’s Reaction to Russia’s Space Conquest
The United States was not able to hide their surprise at all. Senator Lyndon Johnson even quoted that the Russians were so ahead of them when it comes to space exploration.
This launching led to many headlines and news which reminded the U.S. that Russia is not far from actually conquering space. In addition, many were alarmed as to what this mysterious object was.
The Engineering colleges were filled with curious new students during the next quarter as if they were joining the army to defeat Russia.
Even the Johnston Island, a tiny mass of land in the middle of the Pacific joined in the buzz as they were given sidearms to carry every day in case something happened.
The Case Institute also joined, and many nights were spent by their so-called “Rocket Scientists” discussing the prospect of space travel.
Star Tribune’s science writer, Jim Dawsons, recalled that his grade school teacher was apprehensive during the whole occurrence.
He vividly remembered that his school was located near the Strategic Air Command Headquarters, making it an area filled with F-100 fighters soaring through the skies.
Not only were the civilians chattering about Russia’s propaganda, but the editorialists and politicians started to enter the craze too. Both criticized the educational system of the U.S. for falling behind the Soviet schools from teaching and training their students in advance sciences.
In fact, they mentioned Senator Joseph McCarthy’s persecution of several U.S. scientists in the 1950s as a major factor as to why the U.S. lagged behind in terms of rocket and satellite development.
While there were those who got aggravated, several others were inspired as well.
This led to many advancements in the U.S. too. Ross Perot, an infamous politician, and businessman got inspired and built the electronics dynasty.
Franklin Chang-Diaz, a seven-year-old kid from Costa Rica fell in love with the idea of traveling into space that he became an astronaut of NASA years after.
Even gumballs were shaped like the Sputnik before, reported Tom A. on a local entrepreneur newsgroup.
A replica of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite in the world to be put into
outer space: the replica is stored in the National Air and Space Museum.
By NSSDC, NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
America & Russia during the time of Sputnik
During this time, President Dwight Eisenhower remained calm despite the country being engulfed by news of the Sputnik. After all, he had photographs of Russia’s launch sites and facilities taken by U2 flights he was ordering since 1956.
Hence, after Sputnik’s launching, he didn’t see this as an immediate threat. Despite this, the majority of the United State’s population kept Sputnik’s political impact brewing as President Eisenhower can’t disclose valuable information to the public yet, thus leading to the “Missile Gap” argument.
Exploded view into Sputnik 1 interior
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This was the time of the “Cold War “ -- a moment in history when America and Russia were enemies on the brink of battle. At a moment’s notice, both countries were prepared to launch their enormous armies, massive navies, and air forces in the battlefield.
The Americans treated the Russians as “The Threat.” On the other hand, the Russian’s went too far as training and hiring non-military civilians to fight the “Imperialists.”
Just the like Russians, the Americans tried to gain an advantage by launching their own satellite named the Vanguard. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Vanguard was destroyed during the launch, and they got laughed at during the whole ordeal.
To make matters worse, Russia just launched its second Sputnik around the same moment.
This time, they even included a live dog inside. The Sputnik was bigger than the Vanguard, and even though this was not a direct threat to the U.S., they were constantly reminded that they’re still defeated this time.
The Launch of the Explorer
As it was a war, the U.S. had to launch a satellite soon. Finally, with Werner Von Braun and his team, they were able to create and launch the Explorer.
Despite this success, various factors led to the delay of the launch, and President Eisenhower insisted on making a dummy and refused to launch the orbit for fear of the Soviets detecting the satellite.
For years, Russia and America remained rivals and competed in creating space exploration milestones. However, this only led to both countries failing.
After 40 years of competition, Russian and America finally teamed up to maximize what each country had.
Now, we look back at these achievements through celebrating these satellites’ launching day.
Some recreate models while others commemorate these historical spacecraft that were once objects of mass destruction but are now an inspiration and basis for future space endeavors.
Explorer 1 satellite - [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
You may also like: