Cold War intensifies as Russia launches Sputnik

  • The second type of response could be called the “To Arms” response. This took the form of a demand upon the people to abandon their sinful ways, and to come alive to the stupendous task before them.

Officers at the CSIRO listen to the radio signals of Russian satellite, Sputnik I, at Sydney University, 8 October 1957. Credit:Frank Burke

Senator Styles Bridges, Republican, of New Hampshire, was the one who put this mast graphically when he said:

“The time has clearly come to be less concerned with the depth of the pile on the new broadloom rug or the height of the tail fin on the new car, end to be prepared to shed blood, sweat and tears if this country and the free world are to survive.”

And if this sounds only like the phraseology of a politician addressing a political rally, then examine the injunction of a sober man of science, but sounding very much the same.

Dr Elmer Hutchinson, Director of the American Institute of Physics, with a member ship of 20,000, pointed out that too much of America’s science was being devoted to such unimportant things as how to bring up children without “inhibiting their individuality.”

Unless science is taken almost, as a religion, “our way of life, is, I am certain doomed to rapid extinction.”

  • Still another interesting type of reaction was the kind that sums up competition between Russia and the United States in the sentence: “A democracy cannot afford to pay the price for a prestige achievement which a dictatorship is prepared to pay.”

The Russians may have a satellite, but such marvels do not feed, clothe or house anyone.

The bulk of the Russian people are still ill-fed, ill-clothed and ill-housed. In a democracy like the United States, the people decide on the priority and allocation of resources to projects.

This Soviet cartoon depicts an Irate Uncle Sam shaking his first at Sputnik as a broken U.S. satellite lies at his feet.

This Soviet cartoon depicts an Irate Uncle Sam shaking his first at Sputnik as a broken U.S. satellite lies at his feet.Credit:Soviet Kirghizia

The priority would be relatively low in the United States.

  • Then there was the chagrin reaction: “We could have launched a satellite before the Russians, a better one, too, full of instruments, and not just a radio sender.

“Somebody slipped up. Some bonehead in the Pentagon muffed the chance.”

Dr I. M. Levitt, director of the Fels planetarium In Philadelphia and identified as an authority on outer space, took this line.

He said that the army could have “achieved a satellite moon just like Russia’s by doing little more than changing the angle of fire” on one of its Jupiter rockets, which reached a 15,000 miles speed and a 650-mile altitude in a test.

  • Then there was the type of reaction which demanded, “Why be surprised at Russian superiority in some scientific fields?”

It has been known for some time that they had men in science as good as the best elsewhere, and in certain instances, even better.

Much of their advance is based on accomplishments of scientists in other countries and on work of their scientists of the age of the Czars.

America is still superior in science as a whole.


  • The foregoing line of reasoning led into something even stronger at reassurance.

Reports began to circulate that soon the U.S. would launch devices that in comparison to the Russian satellite would be like a pearl to a pea.

The most startling of these is to be a “rocket train” launched 240,400 miles to the moon from a 100,000-foot high balloon.

This rocket train would be equipped with every conceivable kind of recording equipment, including a television camera that would send back pictures of “the far side” of the moon, the side not yet seen by human eyes.

  • A type of reaction worth identification, perhaps because of its negative rather than positive character, is the one which makes much of the propaganda value of the satellite to Russia.

The Russians will now have demonstrated to the uncommitted peoples of the world that the Communist system is the better one for achievement.

America will lose friends. More of the world’s peoples will be crowding to get into the Russian camp.

All that America has done and spent to bring these to adhere to the West will have been done and spent in vain.

It’s a great loss. Those who seem most troubled by this loss do not appear to realise that those of the uncommitted peoples who see in the satellite a reason for committing themselves to Russia couldn’t really be of much value to the West.


A final rubric on American reaction to the Russian satellite was that given by the American admiral who simply said he didn’t believe the Russians had really done it.

All together, Sputnik, as the Russians call their satellite, rather shook America up.

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