After the success of the sputnik launch in 1957, the us feared that

History changed on Oct. 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik. The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball, about 23 inches diameter and weighing less than 190 pounds. It took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the Space Age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R. space race.

Like the Soviet Union, the United States was planning to launch a satellite as part of the International Geophysical Year. Caught off-guard, the American public felt echoes of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor less than 16 years before. Americans feared that the Soviets—whom they believed were behind the U.S. technologically after the devastation of World War II—could launch ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons at the United States.

Audio: Telemetry from Sputnik

After the success of the sputnik launch in 1957, the us feared that

Image Credit: NASA/Asif A. Siddiqi

Sputnik’s launch led the U.S. government to focus and consolidate space exploration programs in different agencies, and on Jan. 31, 1958, the Army launched Explorer I. This satellite carried a small scientific payload that discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth, later named after principal investigator James Van Allen. That summer, Congress and President Eisenhower created NASA, which came into being Oct. 1.

Sputnik’s launch created a rivalry that lasted decades and sent Americans to the moon, but which ultimately gave way to cooperation and collaboration. Sixty years later, Americans and Russians work alongside each other and astronauts from many other countries aboard the International Space Station.

After the success of the sputnik launch in 1957, the us feared that

Image Credit: NASA

Read more:

Sputnik and the Dawn of the Space Age, by former NASA chief historian Roger Launius

Sputnik and the Creation of NASA, by Dr. Eilene Galloway, who drafted NASA’s founding legislation (from 2007)

Sixty years ago this fall, the Soviets invalidated the American characterization of them as “backward” by launching the world’s first artificial space satellite, Sputnik, on Oct. 4, 1957. This event inspired widespread panic in the United States when the public became convinced they were vulnerable to a Soviet nuclear attack from space.

The previously popular President Dwight Eisenhower now became the focus of angry citizens who accused him of being more interested in his golf game than in protecting the country.

But amidst all the panic and Soviet boasts was a behind-the-scenes story in which Sputnik and the space race it inspired actually benefited the United States.

Before 1957, the Eisenhower era represented the high point of Establishment support. Not since World War II had the country been so united, and although it was evenly split along Democratic and Republican lines, there was no Tourette’ Syndrome culture war as in our era.

Amazingly, from the vantage point of our anti-government zeitgeist, 85 percent of the country trusted the federal government to protect them.

The citizenry had good reason to believe this. For whatever economic differences they had, both Democrats and Republican lawmakers shared the same belief that the Soviets were not only a threat to the world but to America itself; and as a result, the two parties united around policies designed to protect the citizenry from a Soviet attack.

But the launch of Sputnik ended any sense of protection. Americans now felt vulnerable to a Soviet nuclear attack launched from space and thus believed that America was about to fatally lose the Cold War.

Democrats, out of power since 1952, sought to capitalize on the launch by characterizing the Eisenhower administration as asleep at the wheel. From this, then-Senator John F. Kennedy crafted his presidential campaign message that America under Eisenhower was stuck in a self-destructive complacency. To bolster the need to get the country “moving again” Kennedy asserted that the Soviets had nuclear superiority over America; a “missile gap” the candidate knew to be false.

It seemed like the only person not alarmed by the implications of Sputnik was President Eisenhower. Aware of previous Soviet efforts to fire manned missiles into space (courtesy of U-2 spy plane flights over Russia), the president was pacific in his statement concerning the launch, and asserted that Sputnik represented no danger to the United States.

But this did nothing to combat the image foisted on him by Democrats as much too complacent about American security. And he didn’t help matters when he neglected to tell Americans that he was protecting them through the development of long-range bombers capable of hitting the Soviet Union (this admirably combined American security with fiscal conservatism).

Nevertheless, he sought to calm a panicked America by entering a space race with the Soviets. He ordered the military to develop spacecraft and land-based defenses against a Soviet satellite attack. To create future rocket scientists, the administration made science and engineering a priority in all levels of education.

“For proof of Khrushchev’s relative ‘liberalism,’ look at who succeeded him: Leonid Breshnev.”

But for all the failed rocket attempts in the early ’60s, the United States actually benefited from Sputnik, as its success kept Nikita Khrushchev in power. For all his brutal crackdowns on democratic revolts in Hungary and Poland, murdering and then imprisoning East Germans trying to escape West with the Berlin Wall, and installing offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, Khrushchev was considered “weak” by the hardliners in the Kremlin.

Remember that it was Khrushchev who validated the view that Josef Stalin was indeed a blood-soaked dictator; and that he sought a peaceful way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis in his communications with JFK. For further proof of Khrushchev’s relative “liberalism,” look at who succeeded him when he was ousted from power (because he removed nuclear missiles from Cuba as part of the agreement reached with Kennedy): Leonid Brezhnev.

Brezhnev’s tenure as Soviet premiere halted whatever meager liberalization efforts undertaken by Khrushchev and extended the Cold War with military aggression. Under the Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviet Army brutally put down their satellite Czechoslovakia’s attempt at creating “socialism with a human face” in 1968 and invaded Afghanistan with a genocidal attack on its citizens in 1979.

During the Vietnam era, liberal and leftist Americans criticized the enormous amount of money that went into the space race, money they believed should have been used for social programs. But from the perspective of all the American lives lost in Third World quagmires, the space race provided the U.S. with a non-violent way to battle the Soviet Union. For the Soviets used their “superior” space program as proof that they were winning the Cold War (Ironically, the Soviets weren’t initially boastful about Sputnik; and it was only after witnessing the stunned American response that they used it as “proof” that they were the wave of the future and American was about to land in the dustbin of history).

In this area staked out by the Soviets, the Americans won the Cold War well before the Soviet implosion in 1989-1991; when to the embarrassment of Khrushchev, who boasted that a communist would be the first to walk on the moon, it was his bête noir Richard Nixon, who as president got the Americans to the moon first—and to add insult to injury had a plaque placed there bearing his name.

The Sputnik crisis was a period of public fear and anxiety in Western nations about the perceived technological gap between the United States and Soviet Union caused by the Soviets' launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite.[1] The crisis was a significant event in the Cold War that triggered the creation of NASA and the Space Race between the two superpowers. The satellite was launched on October 4, 1957, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. This created a crisis reaction in national newspapers such as The New York Times, which mentioned the satellite in 279 articles between October 6, 1957, and October 31, 1957 (more than 11 articles per day).[2]

After the success of the sputnik launch in 1957, the us feared that

Replica of Sputnik 1

The US was the dominant world power in the early 1950s. Lockheed U-2 spy plane flights over the Soviet Union provided intelligence that the US held the advantage in nuclear capability.[3][4] However, an education gap was identified when studies conducted between 1955 and 1961 reported that the Soviet Union was training two to three times as many scientists per year as the US.[5] The launch and orbit of Sputnik 1 suggested that the Soviet Union had made a substantial leap forward in technology, which was interpreted as a serious threat to US national security, which spurred the US to make considerable federal investments in research and development, education, and national security.[3] The Juno I rocket that carried the first US satellite Explorer 1 had been ready to launch in 1956, but the fact was classified and unknown to the public.[6] The Army's PGM-19 Jupiter from which Juno was derived had been shelved on the orders of Defense Secretary Charles Erwin Wilson amid interservice rivalry with the US Air Force's PGM-17 Thor.[6]

The Soviets used ICBM technology to launch Sputnik into space, which gave them two propaganda advantages over the US at once: the capability to send the satellite into orbit and proof of the distance capabilities of their missiles.[7] That proved that the Soviets had rockets capable of sending nuclear weapons to Western Europe and even North America. That was the most immediate threat that Sputnik 1 posed. The United States, a land with a history of geographical security from European wars because of its distance, suddenly seemed vulnerable.

A contributing factor to the Sputnik crisis was that the Soviets had not released a photograph of the satellite for five days after the launch.[7] Until then, its appearance remained a mystery to Americans. Another factor was its weight of 184 pounds (83 kg), compared to US plans to launch a satellite of 21.5 pounds (9.8 kg).[7] The Soviet claim seemed outrageous to many American officials, who doubted its accuracy. US rockets then produced 150,000 pounds-force (670,000 N) of thrust, and US officials presumed that the Soviet rocket that launched Sputnik into space must have produced 200,000 pounds-force (890,000 N) of thrust. In fact, the R-7 rocket that launched Sputnik 1 into space produced almost 1,000,000 pounds-force (4,400,000 N) of thrust.[7] All of those factors contributed to the Americans' perception that they were greatly behind the Soviets in the development of space technologies.


Beeps transmitted by Sputnik 1

The signals of Sputnik 1 continued for 22 days

Hours after the launch, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Astronomy Department rigged an ad hoc interferometer to measure signals from the satellite.[1] Donald B. Gillies and Jim Snyder programmed the ILLIAC I computer to calculate the satellite orbit from this data. The programming and calculation was completed in less than two days. The rapid publication of the ephemeris (orbit) in the journal Nature within a month of the satellite launch[8] helped to dispel some of the fears created by the Sputnik launch. It also lent credence to the spurious idea that the Sputnik launch was part of an organized effort to dominate space.[9][further explanation needed]

The successful launch of Sputnik 1 and then the subsequent failure of the first two Project Vanguard launch attempts greatly accentuated the US perception of a threat from the Soviet Union that had persisted since the Cold War had begun after World War II. The same rocket that launched Sputnik could send a nuclear warhead anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes, which would strip the Continental United States of its oceanic defenses. The Soviets had demonstrated that capability on 21 August by a 6,000-kilometer (3,700 mi) test flight of the R-7 booster. The event was announced by TASS five days later and was widely reported in other media.[10]

Five days after the launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, US President Dwight Eisenhower addressed the American people. After being asked by a reporter on security concerns about the Soviet satellite, Eisenhower said, "Now, so far as the satellite itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota."[7]

Eisenhower made the argument that Sputnik was only a scientific achievement and not a military threat or change in world power. He believed that Sputnik's weight "was not commensurate with anything of great military significance, and that was also a factor in putting it in [proper] perspective".[7]

In 1958, Eisenhower declared three "stark facts" the United States needed to confront:

  • The Soviets had surpassed America and the rest of the free world in scientific and technological advancements in outer space.
  • If the Soviets maintained that superiority, they might use it as a means to undermine America's prestige and leadership.
  • If the Soviets became the first to achieve significantly superior military capability in outer space and created an imbalance of power, they could pose a direct military threat to the US.[11]

Eisenhower followed this statement by saying that the United States needed to meet these challenges with "resourcefulness and vigor".[11] The president also noted the importance of education for the Russians in their recent scientific and technological progress, and for America's response to the Russians. He remarked, "we need scientists in the ten years ahead...scrutinize your school's curriculum and standards. Then decide for yourselves whether they meet the stern demands of the era we are entering."[12] His ability to project confidence about the situation was limited because his confidence was based on clandestine reconnaissance[11] and so he failed to quell the fears that there was a shift in power between the Americans and Soviets.[11] The perception of the Soviets being more modern than the Americans was reinforced by Eisenhower's old-fashioned style.[13] The launch of Sputnik 1 also impacted Eisenhower's ratings in his polls, but he eventually recovered.[7]


Soviet stamp depicting Sputnik's orbit around Earth

The media stirred a moral panic by writing sensational pieces on the event. In the first and second days following the event, The New York Times wrote that the launch of Sputnik 1 was a major global propaganda and prestige triumph for Russian communism.[14] Further, Fred Hechinger, a noted American journalist and education editor, reported, “hardly a week passed without several television programs examining education".[15] It was after the people of the United States were exposed to a multitude of news reports that it became a "nation in shock".[14] The media not only reported public concern but also created the hysteria.[14] Journalists greatly exaggerated the danger of the Soviet satellite for their own benefit.[14] On October 9, 1957, the notable science fiction writer and scientist Arthur C. Clarke said that the day that Sputnik orbited around the Earth, the US became a second-rate power.[14]

Politicians used the event to bolster their ratings in polls.[7] Research and development was used as a propaganda tool, and Congress spent large sums of money on the perceived problem of US technological deficiency.[13] After the launch of Sputnik 1 national security advisers overestimated the Soviets' current and potential rocket strength, which alarmed portions of Congress and the executive branch.[14] When these estimations were released, Eisenhower was forced into an accelerated missile race to appease those concerned with America's safety.[14] Sputnik provoked Congress into taking action on improving the US standing in the fields of science.

Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, reflected on the event by saying, "It always sounded good to say in public speeches that we could hit a fly at any distance with our missiles. Despite the wide radius of destruction caused by our nuclear warheads, pinpoint accuracy was still necessary – and it was difficult to achieve."[7] At the time, Khrushchev stated that "our potential enemies cringe in fright".[7] The political analyst Samuel Lubell conducted research on public opinion about Sputnik and found "no evidence at all of any panic or hysteria in the public's reaction", which confirmed that it was an elite, not a popular, panic.[14]

The launch spurred a series of US initiatives[16] ranging from defense to education. Increased emphasis was placed on the US Navy's Project Vanguard to launch an American satellite into orbit. There was a renewed interest in the existing Explorer program, which launched the first American satellite into orbit on January 31, 1958.[17] In February 1958, Eisenhower authorized formation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was later renamed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), within the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop emerging technologies for the US military. On July 29, 1958, he signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, the creation of NASA.[16]

Less than a year after the Sputnik launch, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). It was a four-year program that poured billions of dollars into the US education system. In 1953, the government spent $153 million, and colleges took $10 million of that funding, but by 1960, the combined funding grew almost six-fold because of the NDEA.[18] After the initial public shock, the Space Race began, which led to the first human launched into space, Project Apollo, and the first humans to land on the Moon in 1969.[19]

Campaigning in 1960 on closing the "missile gap",[20] Eisenhower's successor, John F. Kennedy, promised to deploy 1,000 Minuteman missiles. That was many more ICBMs than the Soviets had at the time.[21] Though Kennedy did not favor a massive US manned space program when he was in the US Senate during Eisenhower's term, public reaction to the Soviet's launch of the first human into orbit, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961, led Kennedy to raise the stakes of the Space Race by setting the goal of landing men on the Moon. Kennedy claimed, "If the Soviets control space they can control the earth, as in past centuries the nation that controlled the seas dominated the continents."[13] Eisenhower disagreed with Kennedy's goal and referred to it as a "stunt".[7] Kennedy had privately acknowledged that the space race was a waste of money, but he knew there were benefits from a frightened electorate.[13] The Space Race was less about its intrinsic importance and more about prestige and calming the public.

The Sputnik crisis sparked the American drive to retake the lead in space exploration from the Soviets, and it fueled its drive to land men on the Moon.[11] American officials had a variety of opinions at the time, some registering alarm and others dismissing the satellite. Gerald Ford, a Republican US representative from Michigan, had stated, "We Middle Westerners are sometimes called isolationists. I don't agree with the label; but there can be no isolationists anywhere when a thermonuclear warhead can flash down from space at hypersonic speed to reach any spot on Earth minutes after its launching."[7] Former US Rear Admiral Rawson Bennett, chief of naval operations, stated that Sputnik was a "hunk of iron almost anybody could launch".[7]

The Sputnik crisis also spurred substantial transformation in the US science policy, which provided much of the basis for modern academic scientific research.[22] By the mid-1960s, NASA was providing almost 10% of the federal funds for academic research.[22]

Further expansion was made in the funding and research of space weapons and missile defense in the form of anti-ballistic missile proposals.[11] Education programs were initiated to foster a new generation of engineers and support was dramatically increased for scientific research.[23] Congress increased the National Science Foundation (NSF) appropriation for 1959 to $134 million, almost $100 million higher than the year before. By 1968, the NSF budget stood at nearly $500 million.

According to Marie Thorsten, Americans experienced a "techno-other void" after the Sputnik crisis and still express longing for "another Sputnik" to boost education and innovation. In the 1980s, the rise of Japan (both its car industry and its 5th generation computing project) served to fan the fears of a "technology gap" with Japan. After the Sputnik crisis, leaders exploited an "awe doctrine" to organize learning "around a single model of educational national security, with math and science serving for supremacy in science and engineering, foreign languages and cultures for potential espionage, and history and humanities for national self-definition".[quote citation needed] US leaders were not able to exploit the image of Japan as effectively, despite its representations of super-smart students and a strong economy.[24]

United Kingdom

In Britain, the launch of the first Sputnik provoked surprise, combined with elation at experiencing the dawn of the Space Age. It was also a reminder of the nation's decline on the world stage. The crisis soon became part of the broader Cold War narrative.[25] Much of the public nervousness that did exist was dispelled when the Soviets launched Laika (one of several space dogs sent into space during the 1950s and 1960s) into space in November 1957 aboard Sputnik 2, which was seen less as a threat and more as a propaganda maneuver to cause turmoil.[13]

  • International Geophysical Year
  • New Math
  • Timeline of events in the Cold War

  1. ^ a b "Some History of the Department of Astronomy". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Archived from the original on 4 May 2007.
  2. ^ "various articles, see link for the search". New York Times. Oct 6–31, 1957.
  3. ^ a b Kay, Sean (April–May 2013). "America's Sputnik Moments". Survival. 55 (2): 123–146. doi:10.1080/00396338.2013.784470. S2CID 154455156.
  4. ^ Bradley Lightbody (1999). The Cold War. Psychology Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-415-19526-3.
  5. ^ Kaiser, David (2006). "The Physics of Spin: Sputnik Politics and American Physicists in the 1950s". Social Research.
  6. ^ a b Macdougall, Ian (August 15, 2016). "The Leak Prosecution That Lost the Space Race". The Atlantic.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Mieczkowski, Yanek (2013). Eisenhower's Sputnik Moment: The Race for Space and World Prestige. United States: Cornell University Press. pp. 11. ISBN 978-0-8014-5150-8.
  8. ^ King, I. R.; McVittie, G. C.; Swenson, G. W.; Wyatt, S. P. (9 November 1957). "Further observations of the first satellite". Nature. 180 (4593): 943. Bibcode:1957Natur.180..943K. doi:10.1038/180943a0. S2CID 4273102.
  9. ^ Isachenkov, Vladimir (1 October 2007). "Secrets of Sputnik Launch Revealed". USA Today. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 13 February 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  10. ^ Harford, James (1997). "Korolev's Triple Play: Sputniks 1, 2, and 3, adapted from James J. Harford, Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon".
  11. ^ a b c d e f Peoples, Columba (2008). "Sputnik and 'Skill Thinking' Revisited: Technological Determinism in American Responses to the Soviet Missile Threat". Cold War History. 8: 55–75. doi:10.1080/14682740701791334. S2CID 154436145.
  12. ^ "Dwight Eisenhower - Speech to the Nation on the Future of American Security". Retrieved 2021-11-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ a b c d e DeGroot, Gerard (December 2007). "Sputnik 1957". American History.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h McQuaid, Kim (2007). "Sputnik Reconsidered: Image and Reality in the Early Space Age". Canadian Review of American Studies. 37 (3): 371–401. doi:10.3138/cras.37.3.371.
  15. ^ Herold, J. (1974). SPUTNIK IN AMERICAN EDUCATION: A HISTORY AND REAPPRAISAL. McGill Journal of Education / Revue Des Sciences De l’éducation De McGill, 9(002)
  16. ^ a b History Channel (2012a).
  17. ^ Schefter (1999), pp. 25–26.
  18. ^ Layman & Tompkins (1994), p. 190.
  19. ^ DeNooyer (2007).
  20. ^ Dickson (2003), pp. 5–6, 160–162.
  21. ^ Dickson (2003), pp. 213–214.
  22. ^ a b Geiger, Roger (1997). "What Happened After Sputnik? Shaping University Research in the United States". Minerva: A Review of Science, Learning and Policy.
  23. ^ Totten, Michael (26 September 2013). "The Effects of the Cold War on us Education". Education Space 360. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  24. ^ Thorsten (2012), p. 74.
  25. ^ Barnett, Nicholas (May 2013). "Russia Wins Space Race: The British Press and the Sputnik Moment, 1957" (PDF). Media History. 19 (2): 182–195. doi:10.1080/13688804.2013.791419. hdl:10026.1/9394. S2CID 142319531.

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