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Sputnik crisis

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Title: Sputnik crisis  
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Subject: Sputnik 1, Cold War, Project Vanguard, Communist Party of China, Soviet Union–United States relations
Collection: Cold War, Soviet Union–united States Relations
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Sputnik crisis

Soviet stamp depicting Sputnik's orbit around Earth

The Sputnik crisis was a period of public fear and anxiety in the United States in the wake of the success of the Soviet Sputnik program and a perceived technological gap between the two superpowers.[1] It was a key Cold War event triggered by the Soviet Union's launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The Sputnik crisis led to the creation of NASA and the start of the Space Race. The term was coined by then-US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.


  • Background 1
  • Eisenhower's reaction 2
  • Response 3
    • Elsewhere 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6


The successful launch of Sputnik 1 and the subsequent failure of the first two Project Vanguard launch attempts greatly accentuated the perception in the United States of a threat from the Soviet Union, a perception that had persisted since the Cold War began after World War II. The same rocket that launched Sputnik could send a nuclear warhead anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes, stripping the continental United States of its oceanic defenses. The Soviets had demonstrated this capability on 21 August with a successful 6,000 km test flight of the R-7 booster. The event was announced by TASS five days later and was widely reported in the magazine Aviation Week amongst other media.

Hours after the launch, the

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  • Burrows, William E. (1999). This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age. New York: The Modern Library.  
  • Brzezinski, Matthew (2007). Red Moon Rising : Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age. New York: Times Books.  
  • Cadbury, Deborah (2006). Space Race: The Epic Battle Between America and The Soviet Union for Dominion of Space. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.  
  • Crompton, Samuel (2007). Sputnik/Explorer 1 : The Race to Conquer Space. New York: Chelsea House.  
  • Dickson, Paul (2003). Sputnik: The Shock of the Century. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.  
  • Hardesty, Von; Eisman, Gene (2007). Epic Rivalry: The Inside Story of the Soviet and American Space Race. Forward by Sergei Krushchev. Washington, D.C: National Geographic.  
  • Neufeld, Michael J. (2007). Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  
  • Ordway III, Frederick I.; Sharpe, Mitchell (2007). The Rocket Team. Burlington, Ontario: Apogee Books.  
  • Roman, Peter (1995). Eisenhower and the Missile Gap. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.  
  • Schefter, James (1999). The Race: The Uncensored Story of How America Beat Russia to the Moon. New York: Doubleday.  
  • Spitzmiller, Ted (2006). Astronautics: A Historical Perspective of Mankind's Efforts to Conquer the Cosmos. Book 1 — Dawn of the Space Age. Burlington, Ontario: Apogee Books.  
  • Thorsten, Marie (2012). Superhuman Japan: Knowledge, Nation and Culture in US-Japan Relations. Oxon, UK: Routledge.  
Other online resources
  • DeNooyer, Rushmore (2007-11-06). "Sputnik Declassified". NOVA (Transcript). PBS. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. 
  • "July 29: NASA Created". This Day in History. New York: History Channel. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. 
  • "October 4: Sputnik launched". This Day in History. New York: History Channel. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. 
  • Launius, Roger D. (2005). "Sputnik and the Origins of the Space Age". Sputnik and The Dawn of the Space Age. Washington, D.C.: NASA. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. 


  1. ^ a b DeNooyer (2007).
  2. ^ "Some History of the Department of Astronomy". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Archived from the original on 4 May 2007. 
  3. ^ King, I. R.; McVittie, G. C.; Swenson, G. W.; Wyatt, S. P. (9 November 1957). "Further observations of the first satellite". Nature (4593): 943.  
  4. ^ Isachenkov, Vladimir (1 October 2007). "Secrets of Sputnik Launch Revealed". USA Today. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 13 February 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Layman & Tompkins (1994), p. 190.
  6. ^ Mieczkowski, Yanek (2013). Eisenhower's Sputnik Moment: The Race for Space and World Prestige. United States of America: Cornell University Press. p. 11.  
  7. ^ a b History Channel (2012a).
  8. ^ Schefter (1999), pp. 25–26.
  9. ^ Dickson (2003), pp. 5–6, 160—162.
  10. ^ Dickson (2003), pp. 213–214.
  11. ^ Totten, Michael (26 September 2013). "The Effects of the Cold War on us Education". Education Space 360. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  12. ^ Thorsten (2012), p. 74.
  13. ^ Barnett, Nicholas (2013). "Russia Wins Space Race: The British Press and the Sputnik Moment, 1957". Media History 19 (2): 182–195.  


See also

In Britain the Sputnik crisis was much less visible and reaction to the launch suggested an appreciation of the novelty of the Space Age. It eventually became part of the Cold War narrative when the Soviets launched a dog into space in November 1957.[13]


Americans experienced a "techno-other void" after the Sputnik crisis and continue to express longing for "another Sputnik" to boost education and innovation. During the 1980s, the rise of Japan filled that void temporarily. Following the Sputnik crisis, leaders exploited an "awe doctrine" to organize learning "around a single model of educational national security: with math and science serving for supremacy in science and engineering, foreign languages and cultures for potential espionage, and history and humanities for national self-definition." But American leaders were not able to exploit the image of Japan as effectively despite its representations of super-smart students and a strong economy.[12]

Education programs were initiated to foster a new generation of engineers and support was dramatically increased for scientific research.[11] Congress increased the National Science Foundation (NSF) appropriation for 1959 to $134 million, almost $100 million higher than the year before. By 1968, the NSF budget stood at nearly $500 million.

Campaigning in 1960 on closing the "missile gap",[9] Eisenhower's successor John F. Kennedy decided to deploy 1,000 Minuteman missiles. This was many more ICBMs than the Soviets had at the time.[10] Though Kennedy did not favor a massive US manned space program while in the US Senate during Eisenhower's term, public reaction to the Soviet's launching the first human into orbit, Yuri Gagarin, on 12 April 1961 led Kennedy to raise the stakes of the Space Race by setting the goal of landing men on the Moon. Eisenhower disagreed with Kennedy's goal, referring to it as a "stunt."

By February 1958, the political and defense communities had recognized the need for a high-level Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA. On 29 July 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, the creation of NASA.[7]

The launch spurred a series of initiatives by the United States,[7] ranging from defense to education. Increased emphasis was placed on the Navy's existing Project Vanguard to launch an American satellite into orbit. The preceding Explorer program that saw the Army launch the first American satellite into orbit on 31 January 1958 also saw a revival.[8]


The launch of Sputnik 1 also impacted Eisenhower's ratings in the polls which he then recovered from.

Five days after the launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first satellite, Eisenhower addressed the people of the United States. After being asked by a reporter about security concerns regarding the Russian satellite, Eisenhower had to show the people that there was nothing to fear. He is quoted as saying "Now, so far as the satellite itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota."[6]

Eisenhower's reaction

Less than a year after the Sputnik launch, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). The act was a four-year program that poured billions of dollars into the US education system. In 1953 the government spent $153 million, and colleges took $10 million of that funding; however, by 1960 the combined funding grew almost six-fold because of the NDEA.[5] After the initial public shock, the Space Race began, leading to the first human launched into space, Project Apollo and the first humans to land on the Moon in 1969.[1]


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