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President Dwight Eisenhower sees Sputnik on the Golf Course (cartoon)

History

As the French proverb (translated into English) says: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The U.S. and Russia fighting again — and again. Meanwhile, back to doo-wop era history…On October 4, the U.S.S.R. launched a satellite to orbit the earth. It was only a small aluminum alloy sphere that weighed 184 pounds and was 22.8 inches in diameter. It had two radio transmitters. The Russians called it Sputnik, which translates as “fellow traveler.” However, the sphere might have been small, but the devastating impact on the American psyche was huge. America and the Eisenhower administration were not prepared for the effect of Sputnik on the public. It was a blow to American prestige not to be there first. It struck awe and terror.

Eisenhower tried to calm the nation and said: “I can see nothing at this moment, at this stage of development, that is significant in that development as far as security is concerned.” Eisenhower was correct, as he saw U-2 photographs that revealed Soviet progress on weaponry, but he could not share that information with the country.

Panic ensued. It was considered a technological Pearl Harbor. The Soviets gloated over American materialism and self-indulgence that did not encourage such scientific achievements. Americans felt the children needed better education in math and science. The book Why Johnny Can’t Read – and What You Can do About It, which was released two years earlier, suddenly became a best seller.

The Soviets launched Sputnik II on November 3, 1957. It was six times larger than Sputnik I and carried a small dog, Laika (“Barker”). Sputnik II, which we called Muttnik, gathered the first data on the behavior of a living organism in space. (Poor Laika, whose name translates into “Barker,” did not fare well in space and died from overheating.)

The November drink of the month was the “Sputnik Cocktail:” Two parts vodka, one part sour grapes.

If you would like to read a little bit more, here’s something from NASA:  “Sputnik and The Dawn of the Space Age.” Please click here.

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