by Rachel Lahowetz
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, into earth’s orbit. Traveling at around 18,000 MPH, the spherical device circled the earth every 93 minutes, transmitting radio pulses from its protruding antennae around the globe. The launch was not only a scientific breakthrough, but also a pivotal moment in the Cold War, generating considerable anxiety among Americans over the Soviet Union’s technological prowess.
Rachel Lahowetz, a student at Cedar Bayou Junior School, explores America’s response to Sputnik in the website, “Sputnik: The Russian Satellite that Changed History.” She argues that Sputnik’s launch was a “watershed event” that fundamentally challenged America’s political and technological dominance:
“The launch of Sputnik was a watershed event that changed the course of American history. When America discovered that the Soviet Union had beaten them into space, the public’s reaction was fear and panic. This response led to major educational reforms, the start of the Space Race, the escalation of the Arms Race, a major shift of power in American politics, the transformation of American culture, the development of reconnaissance satellites, and advances in technology. These widespread and dramatic changes show that Sputnik truly was a turning point in history.”
Cedar Bayou Junior School
Individual Interpretive Web Site
Edwin Marcus cartoon lampooning the American response to Sputnik (Image courtesy of Library of Congress)
Modern replica of Sputnik 1 housed in the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC (Image couresty of NASA)