|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?
Ned Bagno of Clayton, CA, asks:
I raised the subject with my father in law over dinner this evening. He was told in a brief aboard ship that Sputnik was "a joke" and they had nothing to worry about. I told him that they didn't want anyone to get scared and desert! He would not consider my point that America was shaking in their boots at the thought of the Russians in space. I was born in 1961 so how could I know? What was the military telling these folks?
Dr. Keith Benson of the History of Science Society responds:
I can only reply that our air raid exercises in school accelerated after 1957. Whether this was a deliberate effort by the military to keep Americans scared and, therefore, supportive of military initiatives, I do not know. I would prefer to believe that many Americans were, indeed, afraid.
Haynes Johnson, journalist and author, responds:
You're right, and your father-in-law wrong: Americans did go into a panic over the launching of Sputnik. But it was a panic that was undeserved. America then was immensely ahead of the Soviet Union militarily, economically, technologically, and scientifically. Our leaders seized on the fear of losing the Cold War and of Russian missiles poised over our very heads, to spur even greater spending for defense and space-and-missile development.
Our military did contribute to the hysteria, and used the fear to extract even greater financial commitments--really, a blank check--from congress in the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties.
Next: What will be the next "Sputnik"?