To paraphrase what someone wrote on SlashDot today, “Russians launch US space program!”.
October 4, 1957 was the day the world (well, most of it) entered the space age. I’ve always been intrigued by the launch of Sputnik and the hysteria that followed. Well, ok, not exactly hysteria but imagine a time where there was no satellite television. A time when video from overseas was shown on television days after the event. The fastest was a filmstrip being flown right after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, edited during the flight from London, some brouhaha about the Americans demanding that the plane lands in the US so they can broadcast it first, and very quickly being shown on Canadian tv screens on CBC.
At the time, world news was received by shortwave radio. So imagine hearing on the radio, or on tv— perhaps a paranoid news flash— that the Russians have launched an artificial satellite. The first of its kind.
Maybe you pick up your shortwave radio, tune to the 20-40MHz range, walk outside,look up into the night sky and perhaps crap your pants as you listen to the repeating “beep! beep! beep! beep! beep!“.
People thought the Russians were now capable of dropping bombs all over the US (did Canadians feel that way, too?). Others thought there was nothing to be afraid of. At the launch, there were Russian scientists in the US at a conference and everyone was happy about the achievement. American politicians were craping their pants because science and math weren’t being taught enough. Meanwhile, the US president knew beforehand that a satellite was being built and launched. He had to keep quiet as to not reveal that the Americans had been spying.
In the meantime, the US was making little progress on their artificial satellite. Thus began the scramble to hurry up and finish it so it can get launched. Meanwhile, Sputnik wasn’t even a well-planned out project. It was an idea of 1 man!
Imagine you’re that man, Sergei Korolev. Your team has been working on building missiles to protect yourself from the Americans who are protecting themselves from you and one day you realize your rocket is capable of heading out into space.
Why not see if an artificial moon can be created? Honestly, how on Earth did Sergei think of that??Now that’s creative! Remember, this is a time with no space travel whatsoever. Nothing was ever launched into space. I’m going to read some books on Sputnik and its development.
So you build the satellite. How to track it? Would you even be able to see it with a telescope? A-ha! Make it transmit radio signals! So it launches (maybe the Soviets had a few failures that they didn’t advertise) and the experiment/research begins.
Remember, this is an era without instant communications like the Internet (aside from shortwave radio which for the most part, really only worked after sunset for international coverage). For 2 days, it seems you don’t really think any of it. Maybe a pat on the back for accomplishing quite the achievement.
The Russian media doesn’t say much.
Until 2 days later when you find out… now imagine this— the whole world, or maybe just the Americans (since the only historical accounts I’ve heard are American sources) is panicking, marvelling, in wonder, crapping themselves, kids are inspired to become astronauts.
Now imagine the chain of events which followed. Including the building of the ARPANET (for defence reasons), the predecessor of the Internet. That’s right,we wouldn’t be addicted to Facebook and watching people do idiotic things on YouTube if it wasn’t for Sputnik! :)
I can’t help but think that the paranoia that followed is the same with terrorists getting their hands on nuclear devices today. I also can’t help think of the fact that education slipped big time in North America since the rush to engineering schools back in 1957. Good thing Google is pushing for students to think lunarly.
This blog post has gone on long enough. Just my thoughts on Sputnik and trying to imagine what it was like listening to it on the radio.
Don’t think I won’t be creating a Spud comic based on all this! By the way, the above drawing is a very quick sketch of Sputnik I did today during lunch at work.
Anyone know how Canadians felt about the launch of Sputnik? After all, we were physically caught in the middle!
And now for some fun: Click on “Surprise!” in the right navbar on this page.