It was the “Beep, beep” that changed the world 59 years ago Tuesday.
David Bradstreet and I wrote about it in our book, Star Struck:
The first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth wasn’t much to look at. With a shiny round body the size of a beach ball and four spindly antennae that resembled skinny legs, the device looked like an undersized barbecue grill.
But this primitive little satellite had a huge global impact. Launched into low Earth orbit in October 1957, Sputnik circled our planet every ninety-six minutes. Millions of people around the globe went outside to see it pass overhead. Amateur radio enthusiasts tuned in to hear its distinctive beep, beep signal.
Now everyone knew the truth. The US had been out-maneuvered by the USSR, its dreaded Cold War foe. The space race was on, and we were playing catch-up. President John F. Kennedy challenged the country to prove itself in a 1961 speech to Congress:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
Yes, meeting Kennedy’s challenge was expensive and difficult. And boy, was it impressive.
Kennedy’s audacious goal was dramatically realized eight years later when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and returned safely home, his journey broadcast on live television for all to see.
Science fiction had become science fact. America declared victory in the space race, thanks to the billions of dollars NASA spent developing the cutting-edge technologies needed for dozens of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.
NASA celebrated Sputnik’s birthday last year in the article, “Remembering Sputnik – The satellite that began the Space Race.”
Sputnik was the beginning of what we call Space 1.0. Today, Space 2.0 is just around the corner.
Say farewell to space 1.0, the era of government-dominated space exploration. Say hello to space 2.0, when a new billionaire space race is funding dozens of emerging private companies that plan to sell tickets to space tourists, mine asteroids, or create Martian colonies.
Thanks, Sputnik, for getting the whole thing started!
Read all about Sputnik and the space race in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).
You can order your own copy here: