On October 4th, 1957, the Space Race burst into life, with early honours for the Soviet Union. The launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, was a landmark in our species’ history – and it’s probably fair to say it took a few people by surprise . . .
What it also did was to light the blue touch paper on a period of extraordinary scientific advance that would culminate – via a series of hitherto undreamt of milestones: the first man in space, the first woman in space, the first ‘space-walk’ – with mankind setting foot on another world for the first time, on July 20th, 1969. Just consider that: from the first artificial satellite to the first man on the moon inside a dozen years.
With that sort of energy and drive behind the space programme, the establishment of a functioning moon colony before the century was out was a mere formality. *sigh*
But as much as anything, Sputnik fired the imagination in a way even the best science fiction couldn’t match. I heartily recommend Homer H. Hickam‘s wonderful 1998 memoir Rocket Boys for an authentic view of just what the launch of Sputnik meant to a generation of smart, ambitious kids who would go on to become scientists and engineers in the space programme, themselves. It was filmed in 1999 as October Sky and is, IMHO, well worth tracking down on DVD.
Fifty-six years ago, today, the Space Age began. Happy Sputnik Day!