Overview[edit | edit source]


On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union surprised the world by launching Sputnik (also called Sputnik-1) the world's first artificial satellite; on November 3, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik-2. Despite the fact that the Soviets had announced it in advance, Sputnik's success greatly shocked the American people.

Sputnik once again elevated the word "competition" in the language of government officials and the American public. Sputnik threatened the American national interest even more than the Soviet Union's breaking of America's atomic monopoly in 1949; indeed it rocked the very defense of the United States because Russia's ability to place a satellite into orbit meant that it could build rockets powerful enough to propel hydrogen bomb warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles. Perhaps more importantly, however, Sputnik forced a national self-appraisal that questioned American education, scientific, technical and industrial strength, and even the moral fiber of the nation. What had gone wrong, questioned the pundits as well as the man in the street. They saw the nation's tradition of being "Number One" facing its toughest competition, particularly in the areas of science and technology and in science education.[1]

Sputnik evoked fast action on the part of the Eisenhower Administration. On November 7, 1957, the President announced the appointment of a Special Assistant who would chair the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC). The next day, as a backup to Project Vanguard, the Army was authorized to proceed with its proposed satellite program using the Redstone missile (thereby abandoning the U.S. attempt to maintain that its participation in the IGY was purely non-military and lowering ICBM development to second priority).

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The National Science Foundation: A Brief History (July 15, 1994) (full-text).

Source[edit | edit source]

  • U.S. Navy, "From the Sea to the Stars: A Chronicle of the U.S. Navy's Space and Space-related Activities, 1944-2009," at 16 (2010) (full-text).
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