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Surrender of Germany
Crusade in Europe
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Interstate Highway System
Civil Rights Act of 1957
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Presidential library and museum
Tributes and memorials
Sputnik crisis was a period of public fear and anxiety in Western
nations about the perceived technological gap between the United
Soviet Union caused by the Soviets' launch of Sputnik 1,
the world's first artificial satellite. The crisis was a key event
Cold War that triggered the creation of
NASA and the Space Race
between the two superpowers. The satellite was launched on October 4,
1957 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The term was coined by then US
President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
3 Eisenhower's reaction
4 Media and political influences
6 See also
United States was the dominant world power in the early 1950s.
Lockheed U-2 spy plane flights over the
Soviet Union provided
intelligence that the US held the advantage in nuclear
capability. However, an education gap was identified when
studies conducted between 1955 and 1961 reported that the Soviet Union
was training two to three times as many scientists per year as the
United States. The launch and orbit of
Sputnik 1 suggested that the
USSR had made a substantial leap forward in technology, which was
interpreted as a serious threat to US national security. This spurred
United States to make substantial federal investments in research
and development, education and national security. The
Juno I rocket
that carried the first US satellite
Explorer 1 had been ready to
launch in 1956, but that fact was classified and unknown to the
public. The Army's
PGM-19 Jupiter from which Juno was derived had
been mothballed on the orders of defense secretary Charles Erwin
Wilson amid interservice rivalry with the US Air Force's PGM-17
The USSR used
ICBM technology to launch Sputnik into space. This
essentially gave the Soviets two propaganda victories at once (sending
the satellite into space and proving the distance capabilities of
their missiles). This proved that the Soviets had rockets capable
of sending nuclear weapons from Russia to Western Europe and even
North America. This was the most immediate threat that the launch of
Sputnik 1 posed. The United States, a land with a history of
geographical security from European wars, suddenly seemed vulnerable.
A contributing factor to the Sputnik Crisis was that the Soviets had
not released a photograph of the satellite for five days after the
launch. Until this point, its appearance remained a mystery to
Americans. Another factor was Sputnik's weight of 184 pounds
(83 kg), compared to United States' plans to launch a satellite
of 21.5 pounds (9.8 kg). The Soviet claim seemed outrageous to
many American officials who doubted its accuracy. US rockets at the
time produced 150,000 pounds-force (670,000 N) of thrust and US
officials presumed that the Soviet rocket that launched Sputnik into
space had to have produced 200,000 pounds-force (890,000 N) of
thrust. In fact, the R-7 rocket that launched
Sputnik 1 into space
produced almost 1,000,000 pounds-force (4,400,000 N) of
thrust. All these factors contributed to the American people's
perception that they were greatly behind the Soviets in the
development of space technologies.
Beep ... beep ... beep
The signals of
Sputnik 1 continued for 22 days
Problems playing this file? See media help.
Hours after the launch, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Astronomy Department rigged an ad-hoc interferometer to measure
signals from the satellite.
Donald B. Gillies
Donald B. Gillies and Jim Snyder
ILLIAC I computer to calculate the satellite orbit from
this data. The programming and calculation was completed in less than
two days. The rapid publication of the ephemeris (orbit) in the
journal Nature within a month of the satellite launch helped to
dispel some of the fear created by the Sputnik launch. It also lent
credence to the spurious idea that the Sputnik launch was part of an
organized effort to dominate space.
The successful launch of
Sputnik 1 and the subsequent failure of the
Project Vanguard launch attempts, greatly accentuated the
perception in the
United States of a threat from the Soviet Union, a
perception that had persisted since the
Cold War began after World War
II. The same rocket that launched Sputnik could send a nuclear warhead
anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes, stripping the
United States of its oceanic defenses. The Soviets had
demonstrated this capability on 21 August with a 6,000-kilometer
(3,700 mi) test flight of the R-7 booster. The
event was announced by TASS five days later and was widely reported in
Five days after the launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial
satellite, Eisenhower addressed the people of the United States. After
being asked by a reporter about security concerns regarding the
Russian satellite, Eisenhower said "Now, so far as the satellite
itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehensions, not one
Eisenhower made the argument that Sputnik was only a scientific
achievement and not a military threat or change in world power.
Eisenhower believed that Sputnik's weight "was not commensurate with
anything of great military significance, and that was also a factor in
putting it in [proper] perspective".
In 1958 Eisenhower declared three "stark facts" the United States
needed to confront:
The USSR had surpassed the
United States and "the rest of the free
world" in scientific and technological advancements in outer space.
If the USSR maintained this superiority, it might use it as a means to
undermine the United States' prestige and leadership.
If the USSR became the first to achieve significantly superior
military capability in outer space and create an imbalance of power,
it could pose a direct military threat to the United States.
He followed this statement by saying that the
United States needed to
meet these challenges with "resourcefulness and vigor".
Eisenhower's ability to project confidence about the situation was
limited because his confidence was based on clandestine
reconnaissance. As such, he failed to quell the fears that there
was a shift in power between the Americans and Soviets. The
perception of the Soviets as more modern than Americans was reinforced
by Eisenhower's old-fashioned style. The launch of
Sputnik 1 also
impacted Eisenhower's ratings in the polls, from which he eventually
Media and political influences
Soviet stamp depicting Sputnik's orbit around Earth
The media stirred a moral panic by writing sensational pieces on the
event. In the first and second days following the event, New York
Times wrote that the launch of
Sputnik 1 was a major global propaganda
and prestige triumph for Russian Communism. Not until after the
people of the
United States were exposed to a multitude of news
reports did it become a "nation in shock". The media not only
reported public concern, it also created the hysteria. Journalists
greatly exaggerated the danger of the Soviet satellite for their own
benefit. On October 9, 1957, notable science fiction writer and
Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke said that the day Sputnik orbited around
the Earth the
United States became a second-rate power.
Politicians used the event to bolster their ratings in polls.
Research and development was used as a propaganda tool and Congress
spent large sums of money on the perceived problem of American
technological deficiency. After the launch of
Sputnik 1 national
security advisers overestimated the USSR's current and potential
rocket strength which alarmed portions of Congress and the executive
branch. When these estimations were released, Eisenhower was
forced into an accelerated missile race to appease those concerned
with America's safety. Sputnik provoked Congress into taking
action on improving the United States' standing in the fields of
The Soviets also had a hand in the political exploitation of the
event. Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the USSR, reflected on the event
saying "It always sounded good to say in public speeches that we could
hit a fly at any distance with our missiles. Despite the wide radius
of destruction caused by our nuclear warheads, pinpoint accuracy was
still necessary - and it was difficult to achieve". At the time,
Khrushchev stated that "our potential enemies cringe in fright".
Political analyst Samuel Lubell conducted research on public opinion
about Sputnik and found "no evidence at all of any panic or hysteria
in the public's reaction" confirming that it was an elite, not
The launch spurred a series of initiatives by the United States,
ranging from defense to education. Increased emphasis was placed on
Project Vanguard to launch an American satellite into
orbit. The preceding
Explorer program that saw the Army launch the
first American satellite into orbit on January 31, 1958 also saw a
revival. In February 1958, Eisenhower authorized formation of the
Advanced Research Projects Agency, later renamed the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), within the Department of Defense
(DoD) to develop emerging technologies for the U.S. military. On July
29, 1958, he signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, the
creation of NASA.
Less than a year after the Sputnik launch, Congress passed the
National Defense Education Act
National Defense Education Act (NDEA). The act was a four-year program
that poured billions of dollars into the US education system. In 1953
the government spent $153 million, and colleges took $10 million of
that funding; however, by 1960 the combined funding grew almost
six-fold because of the NDEA. After the initial public shock, the
Space Race began, leading to the first human launched into space,
Project Apollo and the first humans to land on the Moon in 1969.
Campaigning in 1960 on closing the "missile gap", Eisenhower's
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy decided to deploy 1,000 Minuteman missiles.
This was many more ICBMs than the Soviets had at the time. Though
Kennedy did not favor a massive US manned space program while in the
US Senate during Eisenhower's term, public reaction to the Soviet's
launching the first human into orbit, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961
led Kennedy to raise the stakes of the
Space Race by setting the goal
of landing men on the Moon. Kennedy claimed that "If the Soviets
control space they can control the earth, as in past centuries the
nation that controlled the seas dominated the continents".
Eisenhower disagreed with Kennedy's goal, referring to it as a
"stunt". Kennedy had privately acknowledged that the space race was
a waste of money, but he knew there were benefits from a frightened
electorate. The space race was less about its intrinsic importance
and more about prestige and calming the public.
The Sputnik Crisis sparked the U.S. drive to retake the lead in space
exploration from the Soviets, and fueled its drive to land men on the
Moon. American officials had a variety of opinions at the time,
some registering alarm, others dismissing the satellite. Gerald Ford,
former Republican congressman of Michigan, had stated that "We Middle
Westerners are sometimes called isolationists. I don't agree with the
label; but there can be no isolationists anywhere when a thermonuclear
warhead can flash down from space at hypersonic speed to reach any
spot on Earth minutes after its launching". Former United States
Rear Admiral Rawson Bennett, chief of naval operations, stated that
Sputnik was a "hunk of iron almost anybody could launch".
The Sputnik Crisis also spurred substantial transformation in the
United States' science policy which provided much of the basis for
modern academic scientific research. In the mid-1960s
NASA went on
to provide almost 10 percent of the federal funds for academic
Further expansion was made in the funding and research of space
weapons and missile defense in the form of anti-ballistic missile
proposals. Education programs were initiated to foster a new
generation of engineers and support was dramatically increased for
scientific research. Congress increased the National Science
Foundation (NSF) appropriation for 1959 to $134 million, almost $100
million higher than the year before. By 1968, the NSF budget stood at
nearly $500 million.
According to Marie Thorsten, Americans experienced a "techno-other
void" after the
Sputnik crisis and continue to express longing for
"another Sputnik" to boost education and innovation. During the 1980s,
the rise of Japan filled that void temporarily. Following the Sputnik
crisis, leaders exploited an "awe doctrine" to organize learning
"around a single model of educational national security: with math and
science serving for supremacy in science and engineering, foreign
languages and cultures for potential espionage, and history and
humanities for national self-definition". American leaders were not
able to exploit the image of Japan as effectively, despite its
representations of super-smart students and a strong economy.
In Britain the launch of the first Sputnik provoked surprise, combined
with elation at experiencing the dawn of the Space Age. It also
aroused feelings of sadness, for it reminded the public of their
nation's loss of prestige and power on the world stage. The crisis
soon became part of the broader
Cold War narrative. Much of the
public nervousness that did exist was dispelled when the Soviets
Laika (one of several space dogs sent into space during the
1950s and 1960s) into space in November 1957 aboard Sputnik 2, which
was seen less as a threat and more so as a propaganda maneuver.
Timeline of events in the Cold War
International Geophysical Year
^ a b "Some History of the Department of Astronomy". University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Archived from the original on 4 May
^ a b Kay, Sean (April–May 2013). "America's Sputnik Moments".
^ Kaiser, David (2006). "The Physics of Spin: Sputnik Politics and
American Physicists in the 1950s". Social Research.
^ a b Macdougall, Ian (August 15, 2016). "The Leak Prosecution That
Lost the Space Race". The Atlantic.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Mieczkowski, Yanek (2013). Eisenhower's
Sputnik Moment: The Race for Space and World Prestige. United States
of America: Cornell University Press. p. 11.
^ King, I. R.; McVittie, G. C.; Swenson, G. W.; Wyatt, S. P. (9
November 1957). "Further observations of the first satellite". Nature
(4593): 943. Bibcode:1957Natur.180..943K. doi:10.1038/180943a0.
^ Isachenkov, Vladimir (1 October 2007). "Secrets of Sputnik Launch
Revealed". USA Today. Associated Press. Archived from the original on
13 February 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
^ a b c d e f Peoples, Columba (2008). "Sputnik and 'Skill Thinking'
Revisited: Technological Determinism in American Responses to the
Soviet Missile Threat".
Cold War History.
^ a b c d e DeGroot, Gerard (December 2007). "Sputnik 1957". American
^ a b c d e f g h McQuaid, Kim (2007). "Sputnik Reconsidered: Image
and Reality in the Early Space Age". Canadian Review of American
^ a b History Channel (2012a).
^ Schefter (1999), pp. 25–26.
^ Layman & Tompkins (1994), p. 190.
^ DeNooyer (2007).
^ Dickson (2003), pp. 5–6, 160—162.
^ Dickson (2003), pp. 213–214.
^ a b Geiger, Roger (1997). "What Happened After Sputnik? Shaping
University Research in the United States". Minerva: A Review of
Science, Learning, & Policy.
^ Totten, Michael (26 September 2013). "The Effects of the
Cold War on
us Education". Education Space 360. Archived from the original on 10
November 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2014. CS1 maint: BOT:
original-url status unknown (link)
^ Thorsten (2012), p. 74.
^ Barnett, Nicholas (2013). "Russia Wins Space Race: The British Press
and the Sputnik Moment, 1957". Media History. 19 (2): 182–195.
Bruccoli, Matthew J.; Bondi, Victor; Baughman, Judith (1994). Layman,
Richard; Tompkins, Vincent, eds. American Decades: 1950—1959. Vol.
6. Detroit: Gale Research. ISBN 0-810-35727-5.
Burrows, William E. (1999). This New Ocean: The Story of the First
Space Age. New York: The Modern Library.
Brzezinski, Matthew (2007). Red Moon Rising : Sputnik and the
Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age. New York: Times Books.
Cadbury, Deborah (2006). Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America
Soviet Union for Dominion of Space. New York: Harper Collins
Publishers. ISBN 978-0-06-084553-7.
Chaikin, Andrew (1994). A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo
Astronauts. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-81446-6.
Crompton, Samuel (2007). Sputnik/Explorer 1 : The Race to Conquer
Space. New York: Chelsea House. ISBN 9780791093573.
Dickson, Paul (2003). Sputnik: The Shock of the Century. New York: The
Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 0-425-18843-4.
Hardesty, Von; Eisman, Gene (2007). Epic Rivalry: The Inside Story of
the Soviet and American Space Race. Forward by Sergei Krushchev.
Washington, D.C: National Geographic. ISBN 9781426201196.
Neufeld, Michael J. (2007). Von Braun: Dreamer of Space,
War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-26292-9.
Ordway III, Frederick I.; Sharpe, Mitchell (2007). The Rocket Team.
Burlington, Ontario: Apogee Books. ISBN 978-1-894959-82-7.
Roman, Peter (1995). Eisenhower and the Missile Gap. Ithaca, N.Y:
Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801427975.
Schefter, James (1999). The Race: The Uncensored Story of How America
Beat Russia to the Moon. New York: Doubleday.
Siddiqi, Asif A. (2003). Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge.
Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
Spitzmiller, Ted (2006). Astronautics: A Historical Perspective of
Mankind's Efforts to Conquer the Cosmos. Book 1 — Dawn of the Space
Age. Burlington, Ontario: Apogee Books.
Thorsten, Marie (2012). Superhuman Japan: Knowledge, Nation and
Culture in US-Japan Relations. Oxon, UK: Routledge.
Other online resources
DeNooyer, Rushmore (2007-11-06). "Sputnik Declassified". NOVA
(Transcript). PBS. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13.
NASA Created". This Day in History. New York: History
Channel. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13.
"October 4: Sputnik launched". This Day in History. New York: History
Channel. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13.
Launius, Roger D. (2005). "Sputnik and the Origins of the Space Age".
Sputnik and The Dawn of the Space Age. Washington, D.C.: NASA.
Archived from the original on 2012-09-13.
Cold War II
Guerrilla war in the Baltic states
Occupation of the Baltic states
Division of Korea
Operation Blacklist Forty
Iran crisis of 1946
Greek Civil War
Corfu Channel incident
Turkish Straits crisis
Restatement of Policy on Germany
First Indochina War
Asian Relations Conference
May 1947 Crises
1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état
Chinese Civil War
Chinese Civil War (Second round)
Egyptian Revolution of 1952
1953 Iranian coup d'état
Uprising of 1953 in East Germany
Dirty War (Mexico)
1954 Guatemalan coup d'état
Partition of Vietnam
First Taiwan Strait Crisis
Geneva Summit (1955)
Poznań 1956 protests
Hungarian Revolution of 1956
"We will bury you"
Arab Cold War
Syrian Crisis of 1957
1958 Lebanon crisis
Iraqi 14 July Revolution
Second Taiwan Strait Crisis
1959 Tibetan uprising
1960 U-2 incident
Bay of Pigs Invasion
1960 Turkish coup d'état
Berlin Crisis of 1961
Portuguese Colonial War
Angolan War of Independence
Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
Mozambican War of Independence
Cuban Missile Crisis
Communist insurgency in Sarawak
Iraqi Ramadan Revolution
Eritrean War of Independence
North Yemen Civil War
1963 Syrian coup d'état
Guatemalan Civil War
1964 Brazilian coup d'état
Dominican Civil War
South African Border War
Transition to the New Order
Laotian Civil War
1966 Syrian coup d'état
Korean DMZ conflict
Greek military junta of 1967–74
Years of Lead (Italy)
USS Pueblo incident
War of Attrition
Protests of 1968
1968 Polish political crisis
Communist insurgency in Malaysia
Invasion of Czechoslovakia
Iraqi Ba'athist Revolution
Sino-Soviet border conflict
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Black September in Jordan
Corrective Movement (Syria)
Cambodian Civil War
1971 Turkish military memorandum
Corrective Revolution (Egypt)
Four Power Agreement on Berlin
Bangladesh Liberation War
1972 Nixon visit to China
North Yemen-South Yemen Border conflict of 1972
Yemenite War of 1972
Eritrean Civil Wars
1973 Chilean coup d'état
Yom Kippur War
1973 oil crisis
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Rhodesian Bush War
Angolan Civil War
Mozambican Civil War
Ethiopian Civil War
Lebanese Civil War
Dirty War (Argentina)
1976 Argentine coup d'état
Korean Air Lines Flight 902
Yemenite War of 1979
Grand Mosque seizure
New Jewel Movement
1979 Herat uprising
Seven Days to the River Rhine
Struggle against political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union
1980 and 1984 Summer Olympics boycotts
1980 Turkish coup d'état
Ugandan Bush War
Lord's Resistance Army insurgency
Eritrean Civil Wars
1982 Ethiopian–Somali Border War
United States invasion of Grenada
Able Archer 83
1986 Black Sea incident
1988 Black Sea bumping incident
South Yemen Civil War
Bougainville Civil War
Central American crisis
Korean Air Lines Flight 007
People Power Revolution
Afghan Civil War
United States invasion of Panama
1988 Polish strikes
Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
Revolutions of 1989
Fall of the Berlin Wall
Mongolian Revolution of 1990
Fall of communism in Albania
Breakup of Yugoslavia
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Dissolution of Czechoslovakia
Sino-Indian border dispute
North Borneo dispute
Sovereignty of Puerto Rico during the Cold War
Crusade for Freedom
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Voice of America
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Nuclear arms race
Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War
Soviet espionage in the United States
United States relations
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American espionage in the
Soviet Union and Russian Federation
CIA and the Cultural Cold War
Cold War II