On this day in 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. The USA woke up to the fact that the space race had begun, and they were not even at the starting blocks.
With the launch of Sputnik the Russians engineered what was called by Eisenhower “the Sputnik crisis”. The Russians proved they had rockets capable of launching nuclear warheads and reaching the USA. The payload of 83 Kilos was initially dismissed by the US scientists as preposterous. They were planning on launching a sub 10 kilo package and did not have the raw power available to shift such a large mass into orbit.
With the launch of Sputnik the world changed overnight. The USA, which thought of itself as the premier power in the world, found itself in second place.
In response Eisenhower commissioned the creation of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA pioneered computer networking and led directly to the creation of the Internet.
At the same time he created NASA to take responsibility for space exploration from the Military arms, which were focused on development of warhead delivery systems.
In the United Kingdom the launch of Sputnik brought into sharp relief that the nation, once the workshop of the world, was now a technological backwater. Great Britain did not have the capability to enter the space race.
But Outer Space; by Robert Frost (from ‘In the Clearing’ published 1962)
But outer Space,
At least this far,
For all the fuss
Of the populace
Stays more popular