Sputnik's Effect on the United States

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On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union ushered in the Space Age when it stunned the world by launching the first satellite into space orbit. Dubbed Sputnik, meaning "companion", the tiny satellite orbited the earth every ninety-six minutes. Democratic Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson described the effect of the launch of Sputnik had on America as a "second Pearl Harbor"(Burns). Appearing akin to a small shooting star, Sputnik shot across the night sky to the astonishment of American onlookers. Sputnik emitted a radio signal with a faint, distinct "beep-beep" to aid the Soviets in determining the satellites location and progress (Mellberg 26). This otherwise harmless radio signal represented an alarm bell to the Americans, and for the first time the United States was technologically behind their Communist counterparts.

During 1952 the International Council of Scientific Unions decided to officially designate July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958, as the International Geophysical Year (IGY). This period was designated because scientists knew that solar activity would be at a point that would allow for mapping of the Earth's surface. Both the Soviet Union and the United States set plans in place to launch artificial satellites into space during this period. In anticipation for the IGY the White House formally announced the United States plans to launch an earth-orbiting satellite in July, 1955. In September, 1955, Vanguard, developed by the Naval Research Laboratory was officially chosen to represent the United States during the IGY. As a possible alternative to Project Vanguard, Wernher Von Braun and his team dubbed the "Redstone Arsenal" began work on the Explorer project after receiving funding from the Department of Defense after the launch of Sputnik (Garber). In December, 1957, the Department of Defense launched a Vanguard rocket that carried a satellite payload. This first launch resulted in a failure on the launch pad and the United States was lambasted by...
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