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History happens all the time. No matter how big or small the event may seem each piece shapes us into the society, country and world we are today. The 1950s through 1970s were an important time period for the United States. Nationally, the nation was in the middle of a large civil rights movement, partly led by Martin Luther King Jr., with African Americans protesting and fighting for their rights. President John F. Kennedy was elected and assassinated while he pushed for an anti-communist America. The United States was also involved worldwide, coming out of World War II, fighting the Vietnam War and partaking in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred between the Soviet Union and the United States during a nuclear arms race. With all of these things taking place, many times people forget this was a huge time in the advancement of the space race across the globe.
Almost every country wanted to take part in the race to put the first man on the moon. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union started the battle by springing the world into this great space race by the launching of Sputnik I. Sputnik was the first satellite to be launched into Earth’s orbit, a task which no one else had been successful in nor fully concerned in trying. However, once the Soviet Union made the first move, it sent not only the United States into a panic, but everyone else as well. By far the biggest surprise of Sputnik’s launching was the fact no one envisioned its success. The Soviets caught the world off guard with their new satellite, even when talk of the satellite had occurred months in advance. After this historical event, many Americans began to question everything happening around them. What was the Soviet Union’s true mission behind the launch? If they made a satellite, what other technological advancements could they secretively be working on? What does America need to do as a country to protect itself against these forces? With all of these questions circulating, the American people became concerned if the nation was prepared for what the rest of the world might be working on. It is easy to say, the launching eventually led to the United States further involvement in the Cold War, increasing terror throughout America toward the Soviet Union, and the development of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The Cold War began in 1945, right after the ending of World War II. The United States was involved in the Cold War since it began, but their involvement began to waver as the years went on. At the time Sputnik was launched, the United States seemed to be trying to stay away from the involvement in the Cold War, which they had successfully stepped back from because it was generally believed that if the war became “hot” that the conflict would be within Europe. Once Sputnik was launched, Russia was showing the world that they also had the power to launch an intercontinental ballistics missile, ICBM, to places much farther than the European borders such as the United States. It was reported that although the Russians may have the power to launch the ICBM, that “did not necessarily mean that any Russian ICBM was accurate at range.” Although this should have given some Americans a little peace of mind, it did not last very long since a few months later “it was disclosed that an American radar station in Turkey had tracked Russian missiles that hit targets…more than 4,000 miles from their launching sites.” America could not deny that the Soviet Union was not only leading in the space race but had the dangerous potential to turn the Cold Was into something much more dangerous and deadly. This frightening reality forced the United States to become more involved in the Cold War and lead to the involvement in events such as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both of these major events could be attributed to the United States’ necessary involvement in the Cold War due to the Soviet Union’s technological advancement. The further involvement of the nation in the Cold War led to an increased fear among Americans.
One of the largest impacts the Soviet’s launch of Sputnik had was the fear it instilled in the people of America. This fear was also greatly increased due to the fact that America had just come off of its second Red Scare, which is most commonly known as McCarthyism, and was already very afraid of espionage from the Soviet Union. It came as a complete surprise to Americans because “there was an usual silence about its progress.” The United States were concerned not only of the launch but what else the Soviet Union might be working on during a time of nuclear development. If they had already been able to increase the weight of this rocket drastically form the last who knows what else they might be capable of doing. It became evident that there was an ulterior motive behind why the Soviets launched this missile. The Soviets were not worried about being the first in space, they wanted to send a message to the United States that everything was not over and that they were a threat. The launch “demonstrates Soviet ‘superiority’ not only in science but in ‘terrible and pitiless’ atomic missiles capable of reaching any part of the world.” This gave Americans something to worry about. Maybe they had underestimated the capabilities of the Soviet Union. With this newfound fear came extreme caution, for example, schools began practicing atomic bomb drills during normal school days. Children would climb under their desks and practice procedures as if actual bombs were being dropped on them. It is safe to say, things were not taken lightly during a time when tensions were so high. With this fear also came drive by the American people. The country began it’s quest in developing and advancing it’s own achievements in the space race. Americans began working even harder to top what the Soviet’s had begun. It was believed that “The United States stands to profit more than Russia from the Sputnik launching if we can shake our self-complacency.” The United States had indeed turned complacent. They had just succeeded in winning World War II and were growing in rank and strength as a country. America had dominated powerful countries and was beginning to make its mark as one of the most powerful countries in the world. People’s fear in the United States started to grow. It came as no surprise to the Soviet Union that their missile would denote this newfound pride in America. The nations new achievements had Americans feeling on top of the world. Unfortunately, this cockiness left room for us to be targeted and taken advantage of. It showed other countries that we were a “frustrated and insecure people, even a fearful people.” It is because of this fear, though, that we developed great programs such as the National Aeronautics Space Administration, or NASA. This government program helped provide the technology and intelligence needed to help America catch up in the space race. After NASA was on its feet for a few years, President Kennedy, who was determined to have the United States take the lead in the space race, declared in 1961 that the United States would have a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Kennedy stated: “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space”. With this speech, Kennedy gained the support of most Americans, which joined American forces within the country in hopes of beating the Soviet Union in putting a man in space. This also encouraged young generations to pursue an education in math and sciences, as well engineering and aerospace sciences. When Sputnik was first launched, it made many Americans fearful, but ended up being very beneficially for the American people in that it gave them all something to band together over and gave a sense of pride in their country once they started being a real contender in the space race. Sputnik was both a positive and a negative event in the eyes of Americans. It caused great hysteria throughout the United States, but also brought the nation closer within its people. Though the launch did cause a larger tension and distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. The big question of what all did the Soviet Union have in terms of nuclear missiles and how might they use them against the United States, led the two countries deeper into the Cold War. The Americans’ fear of the Soviet’s nuclear power also made people wonder if the Soviets were using the satellite to gain information and spy on their nation. Even with these fears, scientists soon realized “something catastrophic will happen to the rocket very shortly.” They had little faith that it would last very long. With this hope came the awareness that the United States was still a contender in the race for the moon. Having this confidence drove Americans to work together to make advancements in the aerospace world, in hopes of surpassing the Soviet Union in their original attempts and beating to the moon. The nation also gained a top space program, which would eventually put America on the map in terms of space successes. All in all, the launch Sputnik changed the not on the Soviet Union and America, but the world as a whole.

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. “Eisenhower describes Repercussions”
[ 2 ]. “One Year After Sputnik”
[ 3 ]. “One Year After Sputnik”
[ 4 ]. “Reds Silent”
[ 5 ]. “Reds Silent”
[ 6 ]. “Politics of the Sputnik”
[ 7 ]. “Sputnik is seen as Boon to US”
[ 8 ]. “Minister Finds us a fearful People”
[ 9 ]. “Special Message to the Congress”
[ 10 ]. “British, American Scientist”

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