On October 4, 1957, the day Leave It to Beaver premiered on American television, the Soviet Union launched the space age. Sputnik, all of 184 pounds with only a radio transmitter inside its highly polished shell, became the first artificial satellite in space; while it immediately shocked the world, its long-term impact was even greater, for it profoundly changed the shape of the twentieth century.
Paul Dickson chronicles the dramatic events and developments leading up to and resulting from Sputnik’s launch. Supported by groundbreaking, original research and many declassified documents, Sputnik offers a fascinating profile of the early American and Soviet space programs and a strikingly revised picture of the politics and personalities behind the facade of America’s fledgling efforts to get into space.
The U.S. public reaction to Sputnik was monumental. In a single weekend, Americans were wrenched out of a mood of national smugness and postwar material comfort. Initial shock at and fear of the Soviets’ intentions galvanized the country and swiftly prompted innovative developments that define our world today. Sputnik directly or indirectly influenced nearly every aspect of American life: from an immediate shift toward science in the classroom to the arms race that defined the Cold War, the competition to reach the moon, and the birth of the internet.
By shedding new light on a pivotal era, Dickson expands our knowledge of the world we now inhabit and reminds us that the story of Sputnik goes far beyond technology and the beginning of the space age, and that its implications are still being felt today.
Dickson (The Electronic Battlefield) chronicles in detail the Soviet satellite Sputnik. The Soviet Union was propelled into international prominence on October 4, 1957, by becoming the first nation to successfully launch a satellite, beating the American program by several months. The Soviet spacecraft panicked Americans, who constantly looked up into the sky, spoke in hushed tones and feared that the satellite presaged an atomic attack. President Eisenhower remained calm and tried to lead the country through the media-generated crisis, but the Sputnik "debacle" helped the Democrats in the next election. Dickson chronicles the history of rocket research, including Nazi successes during WWII. American and Soviet troops vied to seize German scientists and hardware. Dickson examines the feuding between the services for control of the space program and candidly exposes the reasons for the lag in American research. Eisenhower gets high marks for his quiet mastery of the situation, pleased that the Soviets were first into space, since that set off a race to improve American education, even as it fueled an outbreak of UFO hysteria. Dickson, whose bibliography runs to 19 pages, completely understands the lure and lore of Sputnik and has done a solid job of synthesizing prior books on the subject.