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Soviet stamp depicting the orbit of Sputnik around earth

The Sputnik crisis was a turning point of the Cold War that began on October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite. The United States had believed itself to be the world leader in space technology and thus the leader in missile development. The surprise of the Sputnik launch and the failure of the first two U.S. launch attempts proved otherwise. The shock of the Sputnik launch was so great throughout America that congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce referred to Sputnik's beeps as "an intercontinental outer-space raspberry to a decade of American pretensions that the American way of life was a gilt-edged guarantee of our national superiority". Privately, however, both the CIA and President Eisenhower were aware of the impending launch and progress of the Sputnik program thanks to spy plane imagery. This information was not publicly disclosed until decades later. After this initial public shock, the Space Race began, leading up to the first human being launched in space, the Project Apollo and the moon landings in 1969.

Sputnik‚Äôs appearance rattled the United States. The people found themselves lost in a sense of fear and wonder. President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the country wide shock the ‚ÄúSputnik Crisis‚ÄĚ because of the looming threat of the Soviet Union. During the cold war America was in a constant state of fear from the Soviet Union. Once they started to launch objects into space, even a satellite harmless to the US, the US went into a panic. If the USSR could launch a harmless satellite, they could also launch a nuclear warhead that would be able to travel continental distances. Less than a year after the Sputnik launch, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). The act was a four year program that poured billions of dollars into the U.S. education system. In 1953 the government invested $153 million, colleges took $10 million of that funding, however by the time 1960 came around the combined funding grew almost six fold, because of the NDEA (Layman 190).

The Sputnik crisis spurred a whole chain of U.S. initiatives, from large to small, many of them initiated by the Department of Defense.

  • Within 2 days, calculation of the Sputnik Orbit (joint work by UIUC Astronomy Dept. and Digital Computer Lab).
  • Increased emphasis on the Navy's existing Project Vanguard to launch an American satellite into orbit, and a revival of the Army's Explorer program that beat Vanguard in launching the first American satellite into orbit on 31 January 1958.
  • By February 1958, the political and defense communities had recognized the need for a high-level Department of Defense organization to execute R&D projects and created the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which later became the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.
  • On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally brought the U.S. into the Space Race by signing the National Aeronautics and Space Act [1], creating NASA and later Project Mercury.
  • Education programs initiated to foster a new generation of engineers. One of the more remarkable and remembered things that came out of this was the concept of "New Math".
  • Dramatically increased support for scientific research. For 1959, Congress increased the National Science Foundation appropriation to $134 million, almost $100 million higher than the year before. By 1968, the NSF budget would stand at nearly $500 million.
  • The Polaris missile program.
  • Project management as an area of inquiry and an object of much scrutiny, leading up to the modern concept of project management and standardized project models such as the DoD Program Evaluation and Review Technique, PERT, invented for Polaris.
  • The decision by President John F. Kennedy, who campaigned in 1960 on closing the "missile gap", to deploy 1000 Minuteman missiles, far more ICBMs than the Soviets had at the time.

See also


Layman, Richard. "National Defence Education Act of 1958." American Decades 1950- 1959. 6th ed. 1994.

External links

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