Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sputnik, muttnik and other picniks in space.

Sputnik's path in time-lapse photography on Oct 4th, 1957

50 years ago today the Soviets launched the space race with a little orb that went 'beep', 'beep' in a shot that rang 'cross the world.

The Pravda reported thus:

As a result of very intensive work by scientific research institutes and design bureaus the first artificial satellite in the world has been created. On October 4, 1957, this first satellite was successfully launched in the USSR. According to preliminary data, the carrier rocket has imparted to the satellite the required orbital velocity of about 8,000 meters per second. At the present time the satellite is describing elliptical trajectories around the Earth, and its flight can be observed in the rays of the rising and setting Sun with the aid of very simple optical instruments (binoculars, telescopes, etc.).

The United States was probably the nation most affected by this satellite. Many were hysterical with fear because very few understood what a satellite really was. Some thought it was a kind of weapon, something that the Soviets could use to target American cities in an attempt to aim atomic bombs. People surmised that the government's dismissal of the Soviet's success as a sign that we were not prepared to protect people from commie threats.

G. Mennen Williams, the governor of Michigan, wrote a poem to express his discontent:

Oh little Sputnik, flying high
With made-in-Moscow beep,
You tell the world it's a Commie sky
and Uncle Sam's asleep.

You say on fairway and on rough
The Kremlin knows it all,
We hope our golfer knows enough
To get us on the ball.

Of course, Sputnik was followed up by an equally successful launch of the muttnik - the first dog in space - Laika. After undergoing training with two other dogs, Laika was launched into space on 3rd November, 1957 on the spacecraft Sputnik 2 also by the Soviet Union.

Probably the greatest events related to the space race began in 1961 when President Kennedy officially challenged the Russians to get to the Moon before us. A series of lunar picnik's heralded first by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin followed from 1969 that catapulted America as a superpower to reckon with. The rest they say is history, end of the cold war, fall of the Berlin Wall, rise of a new Europe and now, a coming world order of the BRICs...

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