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Sputnik and the Space Race

 

If an American happened to be gazing at the stars on Friday, October 4, 1957 he may have noticed an object crossing the evening sky. Radio listeners, too, may have heard a series of "beep, beep, beep" sounds coming from their radios. A momentous event had occurred in the region of the Soviet Union known as Kazakhstan -- the Soviets had launched an artificial satellite into orbit around the earth. The satellite named Sputnik, Russian for "traveling companion," transmitted the beeping sounds as it followed its orbit around the globe. Rather than celebrating this momentous scientific feat, Americans reacted with a great deal of fear. The event came at a period near the end of the McCarthy communist "witch hunts," a time when schoolchildren were involved in "Duck and Cover" air raid drills, and citizens were encouraged to build their own civil defense shelters. It was widely believed that if the Soviets could launch a satellite into space, they probably could launch nuclear missiles capable of reaching U.S. shores.

Proposed news release from National Academy of Sciences regarding Soviet plans to launch earth satellite as part of International Geophysical Year program, June 18, 1957 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 625, OF 146-F-2 Outer Space, Earth-Circling Satellites (1); NAID #12060491]

Statement by the National Science Board in response to Russian satellite, October 1957 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 625, OF 146-F-1 Outer Space, Soviet Satellites-Sputnik; NAID #12060499]

Reaction to the Soviet Satellite - A Preliminary Evaluation [White House Office of the Staff Research Group, Box 35, Special Projects: Sputnik, Missiles and Related Matters; NAID #12082706]

Memo for the President regarding U.S. scientific satellite program budget, October 8, 1957 [DDE's Records as President, Official File, Box 625, OF 146-F-2 Outer Space, Earth-Circling Satellites (1); NAID #12060493]

Memo from C.D. Jackson regarding Soviet satellite, October 8, 1957 [C.D. Jackson Papers, Box 69, Log-1957 (4); NAID #12086487]

Memorandum of Conference with the President on October 8, 1957, 8:30 a.m. (dated October 9) [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 27, October '57 Staff Notes (2); NAID #12043774]

Memorandum of Conference with the President on October 8, 1957, 5:00 p.m. (dated October 9) [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 27, October '57 Staff Notes (2); NAID #12043783]

Official White House transcript of President Eisenhower's Press and Radio Conference #123 concerning the development by the U.S. of an earth satellite, October 9, 1957 (pages 1-9 only) [DDE's Papers as President, Press Conference Series, Box 6, Press Conference Oct. 9, 1957; NAID #12086488]

Summary of Discussion, 339th Meeting of the National Security Council October 10, 1957 concerning "Implications of the Soviet Earth Satellite For U.S. Security" and "Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Programs," dated October 11, 1957 [DDE's Papers as President, NSC Series, Box 9, 339th Meeting of the NSC; NAID #12093096]

Memorandum of Conference with the President on American science education and Sputnik, October 15, 1957 (dated October 16) [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 27, October '57 Staff Notes (2); NAID #12043792]

Memo to President Eisenhower from Secretary of State John Foster Dulles regarding possible effects to economic aid, October 31, 1957 [John Foster Dulles Papers, JFD Chronological Series, Box 15, JFD Chronological October 1957 (1); NAID #12082714]

Text of address by the President delivered from the Oval Office in the White House on "Science in National Security," November 7, 1957 [DDE's Papers as President, Speech Series, Box 23, Science in National Security 11/7/57; NAID #12093102]

Text of address on "Our Future Security" delivered by the President in Oklahoma City. Subjects include military programs and satellite projects, November 13, 1957 [DDE's Papers as President, Speech Series, Box 23, Our Future Security 13 Nov 57 (2); NAID #12093109]

Minutes of the Cabinet Meeting concerning improvements in science and mathematics education, December 2, 1957 (pages 1-3 only) [DDE's Papers as President, Cabinet Series, Box 10, Cabinet Meeting of 12/2/57; NAID #12042587]

Legislative Leadership Meeting of January 7, 1958 regarding earth satellites [DDE's Papers as President, DDE Diary Series, Box 30, Staff Notes January 1958; NAID #12044831]

Summary of Discussion, 357th Meeting of the National Security Council concerning "U.S. Objectives in Space Exploration and Science," March 6, 1958 (pages 7-9 only) [DDE's Papers as President, NSC Series, Box 9, 357th Meeting of the NSC; NAID #12093099]

Public Opinion Index, April 14, 1958 [DDE's Records as President, Official Files, Box 625, OF 146-F-2 Earth-Circling Satellites (2); NAID #12060495]

National Science Youth Month termed "Answer to Sputnik," October 5, 1958 [U.S. President's Committee on Scientists and Engineers, Box 37, Washington D.C. 10/5/58; NAID #12093112]

Secondary resources on this topic include:

"Eisenhower, Sputnik, and the Creation of NASA," Roger D. Launius, Prologue, Summer 1996, Vol. 28, No. 2.

Between Sputnik and the Shuttle: New Perspectives on American Astronautics (American Astronautical Society History Series, Volume 3) edited by Frederick C. Durrant III, AAS Publications, San Diego, 1981.

...The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, Walter A. McDougall, Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, New York, 1985.

A Scientist at the White House: The Private Diary of President Eisenhower's Special Assistant for Science and Technology, George B. Kistiakowsky, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, and London England, 1976.

Spaceflight and the Myth of Presidential Leadership, edited by Roger D. Launius and Howard E. McCurdy, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1997.

The Sputnik Challenge, Robert A. Divine, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1993.

Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, James R. Killian Jr., The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA and London, England, 1977.

The Sputnik Crisis and Early United States Space Policy: A Critique of the Historiography of Space, Rip Bulkeley, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1991.

For additional information please see:

NASA Subject Guide