Happy Sputnik Day!
It looks like a silver ball with antennae sticking out of it, not unlike a child's drawing. Something out of Flash Gordon or The Prisoner. October 4, 1957, Soviet scientist Sergei Korolyov and his team gazed skyward as their homebrew satellite rocketed towards the heavens, heralding a new era in applied science, and a new stage in the Cold War with the West.
Sputnik's round-the-world commute took 96 minutes[source].
"Each of these
first rockets was like a beloved woman for us," [former space program director Boris Chertok] said. "We were in
love with every rocket, we desperately wanted it to blast off
successfully. We would give our hearts and souls to see it flying."
This very rational exuberance, and Korolyov's determination, were the key to Sputnik's success.
So was happenstance.
As described by the former scientists, the world's first orbiter was
born out of a very different Soviet program: the frantic development of
a rocket capable of striking the United States with a hydrogen bomb.
"The key reason behind the emergence of Sputnik was the Cold War
atmosphere and our race against the Americans," Chertok said. "The
military missile was the main thing we were thinking of at the moment."
The space race that follpwed captured the public's imagination, sparking interstellar dreams and stoking fears of spaceborne attacks from "the bad guys"; sucking up money that could have been spent on infrastructure and diverting it towards what some see as a whose-rocket-is-bigger contest; bringing us breakthroughs like the pocket calculator, whose slender innards begat the laptop on which I now hack this out. The Space Review has a nice roundup of musings on this very topic:
(...)we have, for the
last 35 years or so, been victims of our early successes in space,
unable to recapture the magic sparked by the launch of Sputnik.
Perhaps, if the launch of Sputnik had been greeted in many corners not
with alarm but instead with muted congratulations, or even a shrug,
things would have been different: we would not have made the rapid
early advances of the late 1950s and 1960s, but instead a more
gradual—and more sustainable—progression of achievements. However, the
geopolitical situation of the era, not to mention domestic politics in
the US, made such an approach untenable.
So will there be celebrations? Of course! Check out International Sputnik Day's schedule for the latest goings-on. Also, Networked_Performance highlights celebrations from Ljubljana to Seattle. But hey, if none of these are near your home, feel free to come up with your own celebration.
"Sputnik"(Спутник) means "companion", so celebrate with a friend or a loved one. Politics aside, somebody dreamed big and made it happen, and that's worth celebrating.