Fifty years ago, the world woke to something they hadn't seen before.
It was the first artificial satellite orbiting the globe.
Yes, it was a Soviet achievement, and yes, it struck fear in a lot of people, but it was in reality, the beginning of a lot of Soviet space firsts in what would later become known as the Space Race. But that isn't what I want to talk about.
I remember going out in my backyard in a then, unincorporated area just south of Chicago, and watching Sputnik 1 pass overhead. To this day, I recall the look of that lighted object as it grew bright, then fade a bit, only to grow bright again, as it passed by. But I was too young to understand the effect it had on everyone.
I didn't understand it at all. But it did light a fire in me regarding space. I remember wanting to get a ride in that Sputnik. But I didn't know the object wasn't even two feet in diameter (23 inches to be exact). All I knew is that it was way, way up there.
Months later, I remember watching the US attempt to put a satellite in space. It blew up and I knew I would never get a ride in that satellite. But it still instilled in me, a desire to learn about space, about the stars, the planets, the sun, the moon and everything else "up there." That desire soon developed into a passion for astronomy. I even had an astronomer I considered my hero...Clyde Tombaugh. He discovered Pluto, and I don't care what that idiot at the Hayden Planetarium in New York thinks, Pluto is STILL a planet to me. Tombaugh must be rolling over in his grave knowing what his peers of today have done to his discovery.
After that failed US attempt to put a satellite in orbit, I thought of nothing else but space. My desire to learn other things, such as the basic subjects folks learn in school, suffered. But if you had a question about space, I had an answer...right or wrong, I had an answer.
Today, I still have a passion for space...I still want to ride one of those orbiting objects, and I still enjoy watching the night sky for moving objects, be they meteors, satellite, space stations or the occasional unidentified object. Sputnik instilled this passion in me.
Yesterday, I watched an interview with an author of a book called "Red Moon Rising." I haven't read the book, but the author didn't do a good job of selling his book to me and making me want to read it. According to him in this interview, Sputnik was directly responsible for our space program, directly responsible for cable, directly responsible for the internet, directly responsible for a lot of things. All I have to say about that is this: BULL HOCKEY PUCK!
We were working on our own satellite at the time Sputnik reached the heavens. All Sputnik did, was make us realize we weren't going to be first. It was almost four months later when Explorer 1 entered orbit. It was the United States' first artificial satellite. It was something we had been working on for years. Sputnik 1 was not directly responsible for it. The US didn't wake up the morning of Oct. 4, 1957 and look up at Sputnik and collectively say, "Wait a minute! The Soviets put an object in orbit? We need to get an object in orbit also! Pete...you design a satellite, Tom...you figure out something to put inside it. Dave, you and Dan design a rocket to send it up there. Arthur...you and I will look for somewhere to launch it from. Okay people...let's DO THIS THING!!"
No...the people in the US working on their free world's version of an artificial moon, probably looked at each other with saddened eyes, waited for the butterflies in stomach to stop fluttering around, and said, "We can still do this thing, people." And back to work they went, knowing they were to place second.
Everything which has been accomplished since Sputnik 1 was launched into orbit, was something which came about because of man's desire to explore. Sputnik might have lit a fire under some people to finish things they were working on, or inspire a young person to get into the aerospace industry. But had the US been the first to launch a satellite into orbit, I believe today's world would still be what it is today.
To say everything which has been invented, which has made life easier, or better, for everyone, which helps folks relax after a long, hard day, is directly linked to Sputnik, is in my opinion, doing an absolute disservice to the men and women who had an idea, worked on it, and watched it develop into what it is today.
Our lifestyle today is a direct result of what those people did...not some hunk of Soviet metal that orbited the Earth, sending out a beep-beep signal for 22 days, only to disintegrate while reentering the atmosphere three months after launch.
I don't want to take anything away from the Soviet scientists and engineers of the time. It was a great accomplishment and one they can be proud of. And although it put the fear of nuclear annihilation from space into the minds of a lot of people in the Western world, it didn't give the world something to replace their telephones, nor something to allow a person to carry a calculator in his pocket, nor something to make postage stamps obsolete. It gave back absolutely nothing.
Sputnik 1 was first out of the gate for the Space Race...that is all.