On October 4, 1957 Russian scientists successfully launched the first satellite into space. Named Sputnik, which means “fellow traveler” in Russian, Sputnik weighted 184 pounds was 22.8 inches in diameter and had two radio transmitters on board. Even though Sputnik was only a hunk of metal, the symbolism of this accomplishment had dramatic impacts on the development of American culture during this time period. With the realization that the launch of Sputnik had such a profound impact on America, this investigation considers the foreign, domestic and economic policies in the United State the evolved as a result of this launch. Further this investigation considers the ways in which the launch of Sputnik irrevocably changed life in the United States.
Examining the way in which the launch of Sputnik impacted the American government, it has been noted that fear was quite pervasive. “Like a tide raised by the ‘red moon,’ a wave of fear rumbled across the Western world. The Soviets had seized the initiative and started the space race, jumping from the starting gate, while the United States had yet to take its place at the starting line” . The fact that the Soviet Union had the capacity to launch a satellite and an intercontinental missile brought the pervasive threat of nuclear missile technology to the forefront of public policy and foreign relations.
Considering the launch of Sputnik from the perspective of foreign policy development, it becomes clear for the United States, the launch of a satellite became an imperative for entrenching the country’s power within the context of international relations. As the entire international community watched the events of the Cold War unfold, the fact that the Soviets had launched the first satellite and missile into space suggested that the Russians were scientifically and technologically superior. A such, the United States had no choice but to join the “space race” to prove that it could beat the Soviets and remain the dominant superpower.
To this end, the United States government argued that is was necessary not only for the United States to successfully launch a satellite, but also to land a man on the moon. This had to be done in order to “regain scientific and political stature in the world through a significant technical advance over the Soviet Union” . If the United States could show the world that they were one step ahead of the Soviets, they would be able to reestablish themselves as the superior force. While this ultimately mean pushing the limits of technology and science at the time, it also meant the betterment of the political standing of the United States within the context of international relations.