Sputnik: The First Soviet Satellite

In the wake of The Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union needed a leader that would rebuild the state from the remnants that were left when the war ended.  Khrushchev was the one who stepped up and seemingly forced himself to step into the role Stalin once occupied.  However, he was not keen on taking the same path that Stalin took.  Khrushchev was adamant about breaking down the “cult of personality” that Stalin had created, which overtook the Soviet people.  This did not only involve the regime remaining silent about Stalin and the actions he took while alive, but this also lead Khrushchev to make big moves in the economy, society, and culture that were completely opposed to Stalin’s views.

Khrushchev cared a great deal about the Soviet people and wanted to invest largely in agriculture.  Khrushchev’s new focus on a previously ignored and unloved sector for business proved useful, and “the policy yielded immediate results, as output increased 35.3 per cent” (Freeze 424).  His Virgin Lands program “opened up an additional 41.8 million hectares of arable land, which produced high yields and a spectacular bumper crop in 1958” (424).  His move towards democratization also created far better living experiences than the Soviet people were previously used to.  His abolition of criminal absenteeism, as well as “drastic reductions in wage differentials, and [an] established minimum wage” completely changed labor policy (425).  In the late 1950s, Khrushchev also “abolished school and university tuition fees and dramatically restructured secondary schooling” (425-426).

But in my opinion, the increase the Soviet Union saw in industrial production in the 1950s, and the role that played in the launch of Sputnik played a massive part in pushing the Soviet Union into the new age.  The launch of Sputnik, which became the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth, marked the Soviet Union’s capability to compete on the world stage, or at least other countries’ recognition of this.  An announcement in Pravda noted that “the successful launch of the first man-made earth satellite brings about a most important contribution to the storehouse of world science and culture.”  Another announcement in Pravda noted that Lenin cared a great deal about scientific development and that the Soviet party “and government have not spared funds or resources to aid scientists in every way.”  Khrushchev was focused on putting the Soviet Union back on Lenin’s original terms in order to move away from the direction Stalin wanted to take.  This new focus and the launch of Sputnik gave way to many new developments, such as the development and testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), that put the Soviet Union in even more direct competition with the United States.  An article written by V. Kruchinin, which was published in a Soviet paper, explained the success the Soviet Union has seen in testing ICBMs and what those successes meant in terms of foreign relations.  The author noted that the U.S. was appropriating millions of dollars to reach this feat before the Soviet Union, and the success of ICBM testing in the Soviet Union showed that “Soviet scientists and engineers have successfully solved” complex problems in regards to ICBM developments.  And it’s safe to assume these developments couldn’t have been made without the launch of Sputnik, and the increases in industrial production that was made prior to the launch.

The article ends with this statement: “The military might of the Soviet Union, which has grown still more with the successful development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, has been and remains a powerful factor for the maintenance of world peace.”  The launch of Sputnik, and the continued developments that took place because of the launch, proved that the Soviet Union was able to compete with other world powers like the U.S. in this new technological era.  And without Khrushchev and the economic golden age of the late 1950s, I believe these developments would have taken a lot longer to achieve and would’ve put the Soviet Union at an even bigger disadvantage in the competition that continued to ensue between them and the United States.


This post received a “Red Star” on the Motherblog.