October 4, 1957

Sputnik Launch Shocks World, American Disbelief

This document originally appeared on the Daily Past Website at www.dailypast.com/europe/sputnik.shtml

This site went down in April 2008, so I have copied it here.


This document was written by and is therefore copyright Neil Coghlan, who created the Daily Past website - a site which hoped to 'bring history to life', by presenting it in the form of a modern news report.  Coghlan was an English teacher on the Italian island of Sardinia, who got the idea from a local radio station.   The Daily Past is a serious historical site, which attempts to be historically accurate, although some interview are made up; interview which are quotes from people of the time are marked with an asterisk *.



In a stunning move which has shocked the world and left the American scientific establishment with egg on its face, the Soviet Union today launched the world's first artificial satellite into space. Sputnik, meaning 'fellow traveller of the Earth' was blasted into orbit from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan aboard an R-7 rocket and is currently orbiting our planet every 92 minutes.

To make matters worse for the humbled scientific and political communities in the United States, the satellite is beaming down a signal to remind everyone who got to space first. Radios all over the world were today picking up the incessant "beep beep beep" signal as Sputnik passed overhead.

What has shocked the science world most, it seems, is the sheer scale of the satellite that the USSR has launched. The United States has been racing the Soviets to get some hardware into orbit as soon as possible, but the rumour is that the Americans were hoping to launch a payload of around four pounds/two kilograms. Sputnik, on the other hand weighs in at a bulky 180 pounds.

The DailyPast.com space correspondent, Jennifer Harlett, says it is this which gives the sting in the tail of this embarrassing defeat for the West. "Some in the White House now fear that the Soviets can not only put something into orbit before they can, but that they can put a large weight like this up there. It may be only a matter of a couple of years before the Soviets can think about putting something into orbit, above the United States, that may quite distinctly threaten American national security. This is the great unknown and the Americans have got to now play catch up and play it seriously."

International Geophysical Year

It was almost exactly three years ago that the International Council of Scientific Unions decreed that all efforts should be made to launch the world's first artificial satellite in an eighteen-month period, from July this year until December next year, known as the International Geophysical Year. This period was chosen as solar activity was known to be high during this and next year.

It now looks as if the Soviets took up the challenge and beat the favourites, the Americans, with all their supposed technological superiority. The leader of the Soviet delegation to the International Geophysical Year, Dr. A. Blagonravov refuted the claim that the launch of Sputnik was a threat to world peace. He stated that the launch "will keep everyone too busy watching the instruments to think about anything else.*"

US Reaction

It has been a day of worries for the United States and the West in general. An aide of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, gave voice to his concerns. George Reedy said "the simple fact is that we can no longer consider the Russians to be behind us in technology. It took them four years to catch up to our atomic bomb and nine months to catch up to our hydrogen bomb. Now we are trying to catch up to their satellite."

Johnson himself said he could envisage a day when those in Moscow would be "dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks onto cars from freeway overpasses*"

The fact that this 23-inch aluminium sphere is circling the world, soaring unhindered above the United States, is a great wake up call for the Americans who have hitherto presumed a superiority over the Soviets when it came to technology. This position may now have to be reconsidered.

Where does the United States go from here? DailyPast.com space correspondent Jennifer Harlett once again. "This is a shock for America. Its leading politicians' reactions have ranged today between rage and blank disbelief. Rage at those they consider at fault for allowing the Soviets to have caught them up. Disbelief at the powerlessness they now feel with Soviet hardware whistling through the heavens above them. I believe this is the start of a space race which will be run at breakneck speed. The United States simply cannot allow the current situation to stand."

Neil Coghlan 2002-2006 All Rights Reserved