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|•• how we learned about Sputnik|
Sputnik and the Origins of the Space Age
by Roger D. Launius
Few Americans considered the reception on Friday, 4 Oct 1957, at the Soviet Union's Embassy in DC, to be anything out of the ordinary. It was the appropriate culmination of a week-long set of international scientific meetings. It was also, in the cynical Cold War world of international intrigue between the US and the Soviet Union, an opportunity to gather national security intelligence and engage in petty games of one-upmanship between the rivals. This one would prove far different. The one-upmanship continued, but it was far from petty. To a remarkable degree, the Soviet announcement that evening changed the course of the Cold War.
Dr. John P. Hagen arrived early at the party; he wanted to talk to a few Soviet scientists, those he considered personal friends from long years of association, to learn their feelings about efforts to launch a satellite as part of the research : International Geophysical Year (IGY). Hagen, a senior scientist with the Naval Research Laboratory, headed the American effort to launch a satellite for the IGY, code named Project Vanguard. It was behind schedule and over budget. Was the same true of the Soviet Union, or would it go up in 1958 as planned?
Hagen had been through a wringer this week. On Monday, 30 Sep, the international scientific organization known as CSAGI (Comité Speciale de l'Année Geophysique Internationale) had opened a 6-day conference, at the National Academy of Sciences in DC, on rocket and satellite research for the IGY. Scientists from the US, the Soviet Union, and 5 other nations met to discuss their individual plans and to develop protocols for sharing scientific data and findings. Hints from the Soviets, however, threw the conference into a tizzy of speculation. Several Soviet officials had intimated that they could probably launch their scientific satellite within weeks instead of months, as the schedule said. Hagen worried that Sergei M. Poloskov's offhand remark on the conference's first day that the Soviet Union was "on the eve of the first artificial earth satellite" was more than boastful rhetoric. What would a surprise Soviet launch mean for his Vanguard program ?
Hagen did not have long to wait to learn the answer. The party gathered in the second floor ballroom at the embassy when a little before 6 p.m. Walter Sullivan, a NYT reporter received a frantic telephone call: Tass had announced Sputnik. When he returned to the party Sullivan sought out Richard Porter, a member of the IGY committee, and whispered, "it's up." Porter's ruddy face flushed even more as he heard this news, although he too suspected Sputnik's imminent launch, and he glided through the gaggles of scientists, politicians, journalists, and spies in search of Lloyd Berkner, the official American delegate to CSAGI.
When told the news, Berkner acted with the characteristic charm of his polished southern gentleman demeanor. Clapping his hands for attention, he asked for silence. "I wish to make an announcement. I've just been informed that a Russian satellite is in orbit at 900 km. I wish to congratulate our Soviet colleagues." On the other side of the ballroom Hagen's face turned pale. Vanguard would be #2. Were they really the greatest nation on Earth, as their leaders boisterously reminded everyone? How could the US recover?
The inner turmoil that Hagen felt on "Sputnik Night," as 4-5 Oct, reverberated through the public. Two generations after the event, words do not convey the American reaction to the Soviet satellite. The only appropriate characterization that captures the mood - hysteria. Mental turmoil and soul-searching followed, as American society thrashed around for the answers to Hagen's questions. Immediately, two phrases entered the American lexicon to define time, "pre-Sputnik" and "post-Sputnik." The other phrase that soon replaced earlier definitions was "Space Age.
Launched in the desert near Tyuratam in the Kazakh Republic, proved a decidedly unspectacular satellite that probably should not have elicited the horrific reaction it wrought.
It carried a small radio beacon that beeped at regular intervals and could by means of telemetry verify exact locations on the earth's surface. Some US cold warriors suggested that this was a way for the Soviets to obtain targeting information for their ballistic missiles. The satellite ‘died’ on 4 Jan 1958 – 93 days.
At the IGY reception the scientists immediately adjourned to the Soviet embassy's rooftop to view the heavens. They were not able to see the satellite with the naked eye – due in part to light pollution. It twice passed within easy detection range of the US before anyone even knew of its existence. The next morning at the IGY conference, the Soviet's chief delegate, Anatoli A. Blagonravov, explained details of the launch and the spacecraft. The CSAGI conference congratulated the Soviets for their scientific accomplishment. What was not said was that the Soviet Union had staged a tremendous propaganda coup. The international image of the Soviet Union was greatly enhanced overnight.
While Eisenhower and other leaders congratulated the Soviets and tried to downplay the importance of the launch, they misjudged the public reaction to the event. The launch of Sputnik had a "Pearl Harbor" effect. The event created an illusion of a technological gap and provided the impetus for increased spending for aerospace endeavors, technical and scientific educational programs, and the chartering of new federal agencies to manage air and space research and development. Sputnik weighed ≈200 pounds, compared to the 3.5 pounds for our first satellite Vanguard.
On 3 November 1957, it launched Sputnik 2 carrying a dog, Laika & weighed 1,120 pounds and stayed in orbit for≈ 200 days
## I’ve had this for ages – in my personal files -- can’t find the original URL.
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