|THE DAWN OF THE SPACE AGE|
October 13, 1997
Return to this forum's introduction.
Questions answered in this forum:
What technological advances were achieved by the Russians when they launched Sputnik? Why did the Russians bet America into space? Did Sputnik undermine America's trust in its government? What were servicemen told when Sputnik was launched? Where will the next Sputnik come from? Was Sputnik's real legacy economic? Can anything replace the Cold War as a motivation for space exploration?
Caroline Ruth Bailey of Anderson, SC, asks:
Why do you think the Soviets developed this sort of technology before we did? Do you think they caught us resting on our haunches? Do you think that we thought they were not capable of developing anything before we did?
Dr. Keith Benson of the History of Science Society responds:
We now know that the Russian scientific establishment, primarily the physics community, was focused almost entirely on the space program. In the U.S., the major effort was to convert the large wartime science program to peaceful purposes. In part, this was to create public support for science in the U.S., something that is necessary in a democratic society, and in part it marked a genuine concern among the scientists to make their work applicable to society. Certainly the U.S. was not resting on its haunches, since the country was developing its own missile program. But intelligence was not well enough developed to understand what the Russians had accomplished until the American witnessed these accomplishments by observing the Sputnik.
Haynes Johnson, journalist and author, responds:
The soviets historically felt inferior scientifically and technologically to the United States--with good reason. Consequently, they placed enormous effort into developing massive military response weaponry to minimize the advantage the U.S. held. They did this in World War II, with production of the largest tanks, eclipsing even the German Panzer Tiger tanks in size, and artillery pieces, far heavier than then-standard weaponry. With the space race, they crashed into developing, again, the most powerful rocketry to deliver the atomic power they only recently possessed.
I do think that the U.S. was overconfident in its technological superiority, and surprised that the Russians could develop the new space-orbiting satellites quicker than we did.
Next: Did Sputnik undermine America's trust in its government?