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Beatriss Starobinsky

October Sky

By: Beatriss Starobinsky
College Now Course - SCI 1

On October 4, 1957, every expectation changed when the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was launched by the U.S.S.R. and went into orbit. It was an aluminum sphere that was 23 inches in diameter and 184 pounds in weight. It traveled in an elliptical orbit that allowed it to go around Earth every 96 minutes. It contained instruments and, for 21 days, it "radioed data concerning cosmic rays, meteoroids and the density and temperature of the upper atmosphere." It was obvious that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were two countries filled with tension, but the launch of Sputnik marked the start of the Space Age and the space race between the two rivaling countries.

Beep, Beep, Beep. It started off as the sound within Sputnik that beeped at regular intervals. With little knowledge of the spacecraft, it lead people to believe that the Soviets were more knowledgeable and capable of doing damage to the United States, and that the U.S. was defenseless. Sputnik lead to hundreds of different thoughts and questions and had American citizens in a frenzy.

It caught the world's attention and caught the American public off-guard. In the movie, October Sky, there was perfect portrayal of the average American community as they stood outside watching Sputnik pass over them. The public feared that the launch of Sputnik declared the Soviet's ability to launch missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the United States. In effect, it was a known fact that the U.S. could no longer claim that our country was more technologically advanced than the U.S.S.R. and this resulted in panic and fear.

Although the launch of Sputnik caused many emotions, it also resulted in inspiration. Homer Hickam, the main character in October Sky, became inspired to learn how to build rockets. Although most of the town believed that the teenagers were wasting their time, and discouraged them, they continued to try after each failed rocket. Their motivation only grew stronger as they realized their faults and made every attempt to improve them. Many felt that it was useless trying to compete against the U.S.S.R., if professionals couldn't manage to succeed.

Before the effects of Sputnik 1 could wear off, the Soviet Union struck again on November 3, 1957, when they launched Sputnik 2. The spacecraft was more advanced than the first. It weight 1,120 pounds and stayed in order for almost 200 days, and even carried a dog, Laika.

The competition between the U.S.and the U.S.S.R. was always strong. It took them four years to catch up to the atomic bomb, and nine months to catch up to the hydrogen bomb. Finally, the U.S. was in the position where they were trying to compete with the U.S.S.R.'s artificial satellite. How would they recover and gain international respect? The first step was the amount of money spent for scientific education, technology, space research and development. The availability of this money increased for research purposes. This lead to various programs to encourage space exploration, and it allowed aspiring scientists to continue their research in attempt to catch up with the Soviets. Any discovery from here on in, was bound to be well-known and respected because it was a step towards proving to the U.S.S.R. that the United States could bounce back by showing our capabilities of future advancements in space exploration.

It wasn't until January of 1958 that the United States caught up. This was when Explorer 1 was launched. It was a spacecraft that carried a small instrument. This instrument was called a Geiger counter, and it measured the radiation circling the earth. The results received from this instrument "proved the existence of Earth's magnetic field." Along with this discovery, was the Van Allen Radiation Belts. Explorer 1 was the United State's first artificial satellite.

After the realization of the success of Explorer 1, the U.S. was encouraged to make more discoveries in science exploration. They began by making an agency dedicated to exploring space. This was known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). All space projects that were being worked on were sent to NASA. This space program received help from 8,230 staff members and a budget of $340 million.

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project...will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important...and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish...." President, John F. Kennedy, 1961

On March 18, 1965, Aleksei Leonov was the first man to walk in space. However, he was also almost the first man to die there. During his space walk, problems occurred and his suit inflated more than expected. Regardless, he succeeded in spending 20 minutes in space. It seemed like the Soviets were winning the Space Race and it became unclear why they were unable to go to the moon, when it was surely the only thing that kept them from winning. They had a lunar orbiter, a lunar lander, and a space suit. What was stopping them from the mission? The Soviets lacked a rocket that was powerful and reliable enough to send a man to the moon.

It was the Saturn V that solved the problem of getting to the moon and that was in the possession of the United States. It was developed under the direction of Wernher von Braun. A manned Saturn V sent Apollo 8 astronauts to orbit around the moon in December of 1968. Later, two more missions were made to test the landing of the vehicle, and in July of 1969, it launched the crew of Apollo 11 to the first landing on the Moon. Millions of people around the world gathered in front of their televisions to see the two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, step onto the moon for the first time.

"We've spent between thirty-five and forty billion dollars on space...but if nothing else had come from the program except the knowledge that we get from our satellite photography, it would be worth ten times to us what the whole program has cost. Because tonight I know how many missiles the enemy has and...our guesses were way off. And we were doing things that we didn't need to do. We were building things that we didn't need to build. We were harboring fears that we didn't need to have." President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967

From 1960 to 1972, the United States photographed the Soviet Union from space. This was code-named Corona. Corona was a desperate act and a response to the fear of being attacked by the Soviet Union. America's leaders were unable to see through the secretive country and it's Iron Curtain to see what the Soviets were up to. It was through these images that the country was able to have answers to their questions.

After the Cold War, the two countries combined their efforts. Americans and Russians began to work together in joint missions, and in planning a new international space station.