On this day, in 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. This was the first step on people in space and the landing on the Moon. It also was the first ‘shot’ in the Space Race between the USA and the USSR and a massive propaganda victory for the latter.
Sputnik did not do very much, simply sent a beeping radio signal on two bands that amateur radio operators could listen to. It also only remained in orbit for a few months before burning up in January of 1958. But its effect was amazing. In the USA, which had been muddling through the 50’s, Sputnik jump-started an incredible amount of science education initiatives. Science Education in the US had taken a bit of a back seat to to other fields of study but soon many resources were poured into technology and science education. Sputnik also caused a minor panic in the USA as people now worried that the USSR could use satellites to drop nuclear warheads on top of them. This would become reality shortly (the fact that both the US and USSR could drop waheads, mind you, not that they did).
54 years later and the world is much different. Artificial satellites are common in our orbit, but plans for manned space programs are slow to move in the USA. Meanwhile, China has said it plans on a whole host of manned space missions. Oh and the USSR collapsed, making its propaganda victory a bit hollow.