On this day in 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 into Low Earth Orbit, where it became the first man-made object to be sent into “outer space”. Both the US and the SU had been working towards launching an artificial satellite for a couple of years. With the success of Sputnik 1, the Space Race began in earnest. The US would not be far behind, launching the successful ExpIorer 1 satellite in December.
The Space Race had profound effects on the world. We have gained much scientific knowledge, both of our own world and the greater universe. Many technologies that we use every day, such as cell phones and the internet, microwave ovens, pacemakers, and ball point pens, all sprang up from the scientific advances made possible by the Age of Space. It also intensified the Superpower Arms Race. No longer did we have to worry only about planes with nuclear weapons on board. Thanks to ICBMs, the nuclear apocalypse could rain directly down from the heavens. Or death rays or mind control rays might zap us all.
And yet the Environmental movement was born from the Space Race as well. If you look in NASA’s vast supply of teaching materials available to educators everywhere, you’ll find a great deal of Environmental Sciences materials. In working so hard to figure out how to leave our little blue marble of a world, we got an eagle eye view of how precious and special it is, worthy of our best care.
Sputnik Day is special to me because I love Space, exploration, and all those Science Fiction Tropes. I watched that show that started with “Space, the Final Frontier. . .” with my dad before I began kindergarten. As residents of one of the final frontiers here on earth, I think outer space was just that much more romantic for us. Now that we know that technology can’t solve everything and can indeed do significant harm. I still hope that one day we’ll still get to explore that “Final Frontier”. Communists or not, Sputnik was our human people’s first baby step onto those infinite plains.
- This date in science: Launch of Sputnik (earthsky.org)
- Sputnik launched – History.com This Day in History – 10/4/1957 (worldhistoryreview.org)
- World Space Week Launches Friday on Sputnik Anniversary (space.com)
- ‘Sputnikfest’: Why Wisconsin celebrates the Soviet satellite (mnn.com)
- ‘Sputnikfest’: How Wisconsin Celebrates Historic Fall of Soviet Satellite (space.com)