How One Satellite Spread Fear in America

Jason Arquette
Professor Hirsh
Blog 10g
October 17th, 2017

In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik: the world’s first artificial satellite. Plans to build the orbital space technology can be traced as far back as 1954 when Soviet scientist Sergei Korolev passed his blueprints along to the nation’s leaders. By the time the President Eisenhower of the United States confidently announced the following year that America would launch a satellite into space during the International Geophysical Year, Korolev’s plans were approved and quickly put to action. And so, on October 4th, 1957 to the horror of Americans everywhere, the USSR successfully launched sputnik.
According to the article “Sputnik, MIT’s James R. Killian, and the US Response to Soviet Space Science”, one of the scariest possible realities for many Americans was that if the Soviets had technology proficient enough to launch a satellite into space, they were more than capable of launching a nuclear weapon at the US. Without context, this seems to be a rather specific fear to derive from an astronomical achievement; however, the United States’ apprehension was brought on due to the rising ideological battle between them and the Soviet Union- mainly because of their different governmental approaches. According to the article the United States was more than confident in their scientific and technological superiority in the world. So for the Soviet Union to demolish their proudly held belief by launching first understandably drove many Americans to fear the rise of the opposing Super Power of the world.
Ultimately, this article is most helpful in constructing the traditional narrative of Sputnik; namely how America reacted to the launch as a nation. The nations collective fear over the Soviet Union’s rising power and perhaps more immediately the new imminent threat they faced in the form of nuclear destruction would later pave the way for the Space Race.

Word Count: 293

Works Cited:
Sputnik, MIT’s James R. Killian, and the US Response to Soviet Space Science, 1957: Exhibits: Institute Archives & Special Collections: MIT. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://libraries.mit.edu/archives/exhibits/sputnik/.

  1 comment for “How One Satellite Spread Fear in America

  1. hryan
    November 1, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    I think your last sentence hits upon a very important point. This article uses collective action and terror as basis for the increase in scientific focus. It’s very hard to make a case that an entire country was thrown into panic but the response to Sputnik’s launch is good evidence. For a nationwide claim we need nationwide evidence.
    -HR

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