The aftermath of the Sputnik launch
Likely one of the most accurate replicas of the PS-1 (Sputnik-1) displayed at the Cosmonautics Memorial Museum in Moscow, Russia. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
In his memoirs, son of Nikita Khrushchev, Sergei, recalled how his father learned about the satellite launch. The Soviet leader was having a late reception at the Mariinsky Palace, in Kiev, Ukraine, when around 11 p.m. an aide called him to the telephone. Khrushchev reappeared minutes later, "with his face shining":
Unlike party officials, the world's major capitals received the news of the Sputnik launch as an outmost sensation. Soon after first official dispatches from the USSR had reached the West, a reporter from the Times of London telephoned Gordon Harris, the head of public affairs at the Redstone Arsenal, the home of the America's ballistic missile program. He hoped to get a reaction from the center's leading scientist, Wernher von Braun. Instead, he triggered Harris' frantic telephone call to the Arsenal's Officers Club, where von Braun was having a cocktail party with high-ranking military officials from Washington. "I will be damned," was von Braun's reaction, reflecting his long and futile efforts to take charge of the American satellite program. Most of his frustration was clearly directed toward Washington officials, rather than the Soviets, whose move he had expected for quite some time. (257)
It was now turn of American rocketeers to advertise the Soviet successes, so they could get money for their own space projects. In the retrospect, it is easy to see how an enormous American effort in space that followed and ultimately lead to the Apollo Moon landing, was sparked to life by a single event of October 4, 1957. On that day, however, von Braun could just beg his bosses to give him a permission to proceed with his own satellite launch, which he promised just within 60 days after an official "go ahead."
Next morning, Wernher von Braun and Major. Gen. Medaris, the head of the US Army rocket program were showing their goods at Redstone Arsenal to a newly appointed Secretary of Defense Neil H. McElroy and his entourage. As a former advertising executive, McElroy was well qualified to assess the propaganda value of the Sputnik launch, let alone its military, economic, political and scientific significance.
During an impromptu press-conference, von Braun yet again reminded his audience that given the political will and the money, all technical obstacles to the US satellite launch can be overcome quickly. However even as the tsunami of Sputnik was spreading, the political will, did not come overnight. President Eisenhower characterized the Sputnik as "one small ball in the air..." The president's aide Sherman Adams echoed this attitude, reminding that the United States planned its satellite for scientific research, not for participation in "an outer-space basketball game." (257)
McElroy tried to calm public fears by insisting that Sputnik did not prove that there was a "missile gap" -- a perceived advantage that the Soviets had in long-range missiles that could hit targets on the U.S. soil.
However, the overwhelming public reaction in the United States swung to the opposite extreme, comparing Sputnik to Pearl Harbor, and fearing more than ever, the imminent Soviet nuclear attack against the US. Unlike many previous Soviet statements about its military capabilities, Sputnik turned out to be the most effective messenger, thanks to its stunning apparentness.
In the following days, masses around the World could actually see the "new Moon in the sky" trekking across the night sky, although most of these sightings were probably that of the core stage of the rocket, which had an estimated Magnitude 6, while the satellite itself was estimated to be of Magnitude 1. By design, a simple radio could pick up Sputnik's signal.
Sputnik and the American public opinion
Depending on the ideology of the viewer, a Soviet-made moon in the sky, could simultaneously represent an imminent nuclear holocaust, or a hope for oppressed and dispossessed, or -- for small band of space enthusiasts -- the dawn of the interplanetary travel.
The enormous resonance of the Sputnik launch was also the result of the multifaceted nature of this single event and its ability to simultaneously break so many assumptions, long-standing theories and even entire political strategies. The list of "paradigm shifts," (real or perceived), the Sputnik had triggered in geopolitics was just staggering:
In the middle of 1957, or few months before Sputnik was launched, less then 50 percent of adult population of the United States had ever heard of satellites. In contrast, a year later, more than 90 percent of Americans knew about satellites. A survey published by Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in 1959, found that immediately after the Sputnik launch 26 percent of Americans thought that Russian science was superior to that of the US. A year later, as the hype subsided and the United States finally succeeded with placing their own satellites with scientific equipment into orbit, only one out of 10 Americans perceived the Russian science as superior. (260)
Despite generally "doom and gloom" attitude of American nationalists toward Sputnik launch, some in the West did see a silver lining in the event. Paraphrasing one French newspaper, it could be said that now when Russians cured their inferiority complex and Americans lost their superiority complex, two sides could finally reach a common ground. In some sense they did. Despite inevitable standoff of the Cold War, the real "hot" war between East and West had become less likely. What is known today as the concept of the Mutually Assured Destruction was suddenly catapulted to a sky-high altitude...
(The Pravda newspaper, Oct. 5, 1957)
During a number of years, the Soviet Union conducts research and development work on creation of artificial satellites of the Earth. As it was announced in the press, first launches of satellite in the USSR were scheduled to coincide with the program of the scientific research of the International geophysical year.
As a result of the large and extensive work of the scientific research institutions and design bureaus, there was created the world's first artificial satellite of the Earth. On October 4, 1957, the first successful launch of the satellite was conducted in the USSR. According to the preliminary data, the launch vehicle gave the satellite a necessary velocity of around 8000 meters per second. At present time, the satellite follows elliptical trajectories around Earth and its flight can be observed in the rays of the rising and setting Sun with the help of simplest optical devices (binoculars, telescopes etc.)
According to calculations, which are now being confirmed by direct observations, the satellite will be moving at the altitude up to 900 kilometers over the Earth surface; the time of the one full orbit will be 1 hour 35 min, the angle of the orbital inclination toward the Equator is equal 65 degrees. Over the region of the city of Moscow on October 5, 1957, the satellite will pass twice - at 1 hour 46 min. at night and at 6 hours 42 min in the morning Moscow Time. Reports about the following movement of the first artificial satellite launch in the USSR on October 4, will be broadcast regularly by the mass media radio stations.
The satellite has a form of a ball with the diameter of 58 cm and the weight of 83.6 kg. On it are installed two radio transmitters, continuously emitting radio signals with the frequency of 20.005 and 40.002 MHz (length of the wave is 15 and 7.5 meters respectively). The power of the transmitter provide stable reception of radio signals by a wide range of amateur radios. Signals have a form of telephone dispatches with the duration of about 0.3 second and the pause of the same length. The transmission of the signal on one frequency is conducted during the pause of the signal on other frequency.
Scientific station deployed in various points of the Soviet Union conduct tracking of the satellite and determine elements of its trajectory. Since the density of the thin upper layers of the atmosphere is not reliably know, at present time, there is no data for accurate determination of the time of the existence of the satellite and the location of its reentry into the dense layers of the atmosphere. Calculation have shown that as a result of the enormous speed of the satellite, at the end of its existence, it will be burn up upon reaching dense layers of the atmosphere at the altitude of several dozen of kilometers.
In Russia, even at the end of the 19th century by the efforts of the outstanding scientist K. E. Tsiolkovsky was scientifically proven the possibility of space flight with the help of a rocket.
The successful launch of the first human-made satellite of the Earth makes the enormous contribution into the treasury of the world science and culture. The scientific experiment conducted at such a high altitude has enormous importance for understanding of the properties of outer space and study of the Earth as a planet of our Solar system.
In the course of the International geophysical year, Soviet Union expects to conduct launches of several more artificial satellites of the Earth. These follow-on satellites will have increased size and weight, and they will conduct a wide-range program of scientific research.
Artificial satellites of the Earth will pave the way to interplanetary travel and, possibly, our contemporaries are destined to witness how freed and meaningful labor of the people of the new, socialist society makes a reality the most daring dreams of the humanity.
On the morning of Oct. 5, 1957, the Pravda newspaper run a small announcement about the satellite on the front page.
On Oct. 6, 1957, the Pravda dedicated the entire front page to the Sputnik.
Front view of the satellite container in the Air and Space Museum in Le Bourget, France. A small hatch in the right side of the front hemisphere is clearly visible. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
A full-size replica of Sputnik in the aviation museum in Prague, Czech Republic. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2007 Anatoly Zak
A full-size replica of Sputnik in the aviation museum in Budapest, Hungary. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2007 Anatoly Zak
A replica of the first satellite in the Seattle museum of flight. Copyright © 2015 Anatoly Zak
An initial American response to the Soviet "spectacular" turned out to be a spectacular failure, as a smaller but more sophisticated Vanguard satellite collapsed to the ground moments after a liftoff. Ironically, the mishap left the satellite's battered carcass to the following generations, while the first Sputnik exists only in replicas. Click to enlarge Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak
A US Army research facility at the Deal test site in New Jersey, is claimed to be the first US government installation to detect and record signals from Sputnik-1 in 1957. Some infrastructure of the center still remained at the site half a century later. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2007 Anatoly Zak
A US military research center in Wall Township, New Jersey, secretly used radio signals from Sputnik-1 to study propagation of radio waves through the atmosphere. One of the antennas of the Diana complex was still standing at the site at the turn of the 21st century. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2007 Anatoly Zak
Khrushchev's fascination with rockets ensured solid support for Korolev (right), who is seen here chatting with the Soviet premier during lunch at his residence. Credit: Sergei Khrushchev
A monument to Mstislav Keldysh in Moscow, a key figure behind Sputnik. Click to enlarge Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
A monument to the first satellite in Moscow. Click to enlarge Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
A monument, commemorating the world's first satellite, stands in Tyuratam (Baikonur), in a small park just meters away from the launch pad, where Sputnik-1 blasted into space in 1957. Click to enlarge: 300 x 400 pixels / 52K Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
Postal stamps dedicated to early Soviet satellites. Click to enlarge. Anatoly Zak's collection.
A Soviet-era poster celebrating launch of the first satellite.