Posted by: Jim | October 4, 2007

Fifty Years ago today


Fifty years ago today, Russia launched “Sputnik.” I feel underqualified in elaborating on just how much this event shaped the American culture. But I do know the impact was huge.

I wasn’t alive when it happened, but Americans felt a mix of wonder and fear. Some people were outside with binoculars trying to get a glimpse of the thing. On the other hand, the Russians were being demonized by our media, and this basketball-sized orb generated enough fear to propel us into the space race. Sputnik became an icon for something akin to vermin, as evidenced by the -nik extension put on new words to give them a negative slant (i.e. beatnik, no-goodnik, peacenik, etc.)

So Sputnik was seen as a bad thing. It spawned–in parallell, the tools of war that might destroy us, and the space technology that may one day save us.

And now, fifty years later, the technology that Sputnik represents could almost  be replicated by a high school science class. In fact, I would argue that it probably could, if that class had the funding and the focus. Fifty years is not much time, but it has accomplished a hell of a lot.

Welcome to the space age.


  1. Interesting view. I’ve never seen that side of it.

    I recall my dad taking us kids out to the lake where it was darker and we could see the sky better. We sat for three hours, gazing at the stars, and watching it pass overhead three times. It was bright enough that we didn’t really need binoculars. My dad wanted us to realize what a big deal this was, what an historic event, and to us it didn’t have a negative connotation at all. Instead we were alive and witnessing something magical; a metal object circling the earth, sending back telemetry – we listened to its sci-fi sounding buzz and ping coming from our car radio as the newscaster gave updates the globe’s position.

    My dad was a scientist, a researcher, a MD with links to Cape Canaveral. And for a brief moment, he was so proud of what man could do.

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