Soviet Union Launches Sputnik: October 4, 1957

Soviet Union Launches Sputnik: October 4, 1957

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik— the first manmade satellite—into orbit. It was one of the instigating events of the Cold War Space Race and one that ignited fears in the United States regarding perceived Soviet superiority.

Sputnik headline
In 1955, the United States—and a few days later the Soviet Union—announced that it would launch an artificial satellite during 1957, the International Geophysical Year, which was set aside as a time to focus on scientific research. Though the United States had the missile technology to launch a satellite, the Soviet Union beat them to it, launching Sputnik—a 2-foot sphere carrying a radio transmitter—on October 4 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in what is today Kazakhstan. The satellite’s radio signals, heard as a series of beeps, could be picked up by amateur radio operators around the world as Sputnik orbited the earth.

Then, a month later, on November 3, before the United States could launch its own satellite, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2, which carried a dog into space. The U.S. finally announced its own satellite, to be carried by the Navy’s Vanguard rocket, but the actual launch on December 6 ended in failure. It wasn’t until January 31, 1958, that the United States successfully launched a satellite known as the Explorer 1, using a Juno I rocket based on a pre-existing Army-designed missile.

The Soviet launch of Sputnik months before America launched its own satellite sparked what became known as the “Sputnik crisis,” as the American public grew worried that the launch of Sputnik indicated a Soviet technological and scientific superiority. Anxiety also grew over national security, as the Soviet satellite launch seemed to confirm a “missile gap” between the two nations, with the Soviets appearing to come out on top. In response to these fears, President Eisenhower announced the creation of NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), and the U.S. also revamped its education system to emphasize math, science, and engineering.

The Space Race between the U.S. and Soviet Union peaked in 1969 with the United States’ moon landing, though it would continue with varying intensity until the USSR’s dissolution in 1991.

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25 thoughts on “Soviet Union Launches Sputnik: October 4, 1957

  1. October, 1957. I was enrolled as a Psychology major in my senior year at Wayne State U., Detroit, Michigan. The administration ordered me to cease taking Psychology courses until I completed one year of calculus. Thus ending my career as a psychologist. I became an instant English Lit major.

    1. What was their rationale for requiring you to take calculus to become a psychologist? Way to change the rules in the middle (or actually the end) of the stream.

  2. October, 1957. I was enrolled as a Psychology major in my senior year at Wayne State U., Detroit, Michigan. The administration ordered me to cease taking Psychology courses until I completed one year of calculus. I became an instant English Lit major.

    1. Be glad you got out of psychology, in Michigan, there is a county that has the highest rate of opiate prescriptions per person, across America. Most psychologists have been buried in cases of patients struggling with drug abuse rather than being afforded the opportunity to really work with clients and determining their underlying dis-ease. It’s turned into a terrible epidemic.

  3. The Air Force defunded my research project for developing a radar absorbing airplane coating in October, 1957, because they thought the US far exceeded the USSR’s technology. Sputnik frightened them into refunding later, but by then, I had lost my job. Some 30 years later, that research led to the Stealth bomber.

  4. Sputnik convinced the US government that the Soviets were ahead of us in the superpowers arms race and galvanized public opinion accordingly. The educational systems of the fifty states responded immediately with new programs in what we now call “stem” at all levels of schooling and higher education. Keen interest arose quite naturally in Soviet education. The question was asked, “what were the Russians doing to put their country ahead in the race to space in support of military goals.” In point of fact, despite pockets of excellence, the Soviet system of mass education, extensive technical training and elite universities, as time, as time was to show, was not nearly as fine as ours.

  5. I remember that I was in grade school in Buffalo, NY when Sputnik launched. The teachers made us do research on this and read the newspapers. It was well worth it as I have appreciated science, history, geography, and many other subjects since that time.

  6. I was a ninth grader in Pensacola, Florida and well remember the launch. We were told to stand outside after dark and look up at a certain time and we would see the tiny pinpoint of light as it traveled across the sky. I wondered if the Navy had stopped manuvers so the Sputnik could be viewed.

  7. I remember my dad taking all four of us kids, out to the yard, at night, in the dark, to see Sputnik flying overhead. I was 5 years old and still remember how thrilled we were, to be seeing SOMETHING IN SPACE! flying so high up, over our little home in rural northern Pennsylvania.

    1. Actually you didn’t see Sputnik itself but the final stage of the rocket that was used to launch it. Sputnik was too small to be visible.

  8. I clearly remember standing on a second floor porch outside my parents’ second floor bedroom, tracing the path of Sputnik as it pulsated across the night sky. I must have been 10 years. It was a time of innocence…wonder and discovery!

  9. I remember Sputnik from the 7th grade. They gave us all tests in math and mechanical ability. I got a high score and was “drafted into the Military-Industrial complex.” All of a sudden, my interest in history and music disappeared at school and I was scheduled for science classes. It was an OK career, but now, I get back to more interesting things.

  10. Upon returning to Manitowoc, WI I was told that when Sputnik entered the atmosphere it broke up and a piece of it landed in the street adjacent to the Rahr West Museum. I confirmed this with the Rahr museum and they have a replica of the piece they dug out of the road in an exhibit in the museum and a permanent marker was placed in the street where it landed. Every summer Manitowoc has a Sputnik Fest to celebrate this unusual event. It’s quite the show!

  11. I was 7 years old. My family, Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, Mom and all my siblings, all ran outside to see “Sputnik” whatever that was! It scared me something awful but I never forgot it and have looked skyward ever since. Now I enjoy catching sight of the International Space Station sailing overhead.

  12. At the time hearing of this, I was a Sophmore in High School in New York City.It was fascinating, to say the least.We all were amazed at this cold war accomplishment by the Soviets.Somewhat scary. Life went on and I joined the Army got married and had 3 children, A divorce in 1996 and shoved into single life after 30 years of marriage, when low and behold the gods smiled on me. I met a Russian woman and we married and found out her Uncle Victor Lupolov was involved in the construction and launch of Sputnik!!What Karma.

  13. I was 10 years old in the 6th grade. I wanted to do a report on Sputnik and was told by my teacher that it was “just a passing fancy” and not worth a report. I had a huge interest in science and kept taking courses all the way through grade school and high school finally ending up with a degree in Geology – unusual for a woman at that time.

  14. A lifelong fabulous memory of mine! My Dad and I stood out in our backyard. Waiting and waiting, eyes locked on the nighttime, stary heavens. Then, with no doubt we saw a tiny dot of very bright light! There it was…moving across the sky…Sputnik. Unbelievable achievement for man.

  15. In mid-Minnesota weather was warm enough for young brother and me to sit at the end of our sidewalk step to view this. Was years before knowing what we had witnessed. Same brother, 10 yrs later, introduced me to Science fiction reading.

  16. There was a poem somewhere in the press following this launch-I can still remember it
    You Yankees with your rock & roll are putting on the dognik
    We may not have the Gallup poll,but comrades we got muttnik
    You think our homes are thatched with straw,our roads are like a mudnik
    We beat you yankees to the draw, we`re putting on the dognik
    You think the way that Nikita raves-he`s crazy as a loonik
    but while you talk of smoother shaves-we`ll beat you to the moonik
    and when we get up to the moon before you`re out of bednik
    We`ll make you sing a different tune-we`ll paint the damned think rednik

  17. I am not sure of the date but when Sputnik came apart and returned to earth a piece of it landed on the main street (8 th street) in the town of Manitowoc Wisconsin. Sinces that time every year a celebration is held titled Sputnikfest. During the fest there is food and music and some local entertainment with people dressed up like Martians etc. with a prize given for the best costume. If anyone is interested they could look up sputnikfest Manitowoc Wisconsin or check with the Herald Times newspaper.

  18. we physics majors graduating in June 1957 didn’t have many prospects but after October and the the Sputnik we were subsequently treated like ‘the new girl in town’

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