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The Effects of Sputnik on the United States

Sputnik was the Earth’s first artificial satellite. It was launched in preparation for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) (Launius). The International Geophysical Year was a year long event that was created to survey and observe the Earth. Both the United States and Russia said they would launch satellites in preparation for IGY. This started a race between Russia and the United States and the beginning of the Space Age. Sputnik has altered the way of life, more specifically, the education, science, intelligence gathering, and technology of the United States today.

In the year following the launch of Sputnik, education funding in the United States increased in an attempt to educate students and produce more intelligent people. “In an October 31, 1957 news conference, Eisenhower declared himself ‘shocked’ to learn the magnitude of the nation’s shortcomings. The following year he backed the National Defense Education Act, which funded laboratories and textbooks in public schools as well as loans for college-bound students—the federal government’s first major steps into education” (Bates). This increase in funds created a better education system. This increase in education funding was thought to hopefully help the United States compete successfully with other nations well into the future, in all aspects of life. “Perhaps as a result, by the 2001-2002 school year average mathematics scores for all students on the college-entrance Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) had risen to 516, the highest level in 32 years. It was 501 a decade ago”(Hennessey). The financial increase to the public schools has brought students science and math scores up exponentially. These increases in scores proves that American students are becoming better equipped for the technological world today. Also, the increase in educational spending helped people develop new technologies that many people would claim they could not live without.

Science also advanced with amazing speed after the launch of Sputnik. “As a direct result of the launch of Sputnik, NASA was created. NASA gave the United States a way to “standardize” the launching of satellites and rockets” (Sputnik). The ability to put objects in space gave people a great advantage when studying space. The Hubble Telescope, for example, is orbiting Earth producing pictures of distant galaxies and planets in the far reaches of space. In addition, several exploration vehicles have been placed on planets such as Mars and Venus. Others orbit the planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, or Mercury. The satellite rocket engine was improved upon giving people the ability to walk on the moon. These new scientific discoveries brought along the fear of international wars. “Some U.S. military leaders have pushed for the United States to achieve “space superiority,” in part by developing a controversial system that could destroy incoming enemy missiles. Because such a missile defense system could also target satellites, many countries want it outlawed” (Kakes). Currently, there are no orbiting weapons in earth’s atmosphere. However, satellites still pose a threat to national security. With this threat to security, intelligence gathering became necessary.

In addition to an increase in education funding, President Eisenhower also took intelligence gathering to a whole new level following the launch of Sputnik. “President Eisenhower needed to know how serious the threat of Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) was. Originally, he had military planes try to fly over Russia, but after one was shot down, he abandoned the idea. He then used top-secret planes called U-2s. These planes had photography gear onboard and taped areas of Russia to see how serious the threat of the ICBMs was. They would then return to the airfield and the tapes would be developed. As it turns out, the Russians already knew about the U-2 flyovers but they didn’t have the missile technology to shoot them down at the time” (Bates). Eisenhower knew, however, that to get an accurate count of ICBMs in Russia and the severity of the threat, he had to get a satellite into space that could photograph ground targets. Since the launch of Sputnik showed that international boundaries didn’t extend into space, Eisenhower was able to have a spy satellite launched into orbit. The spy satellite was code-named Corona. It showed that the Russians were farther behind on missile technology than was originally thought (“Sputnik”). This information was a great relief to Americans. To this day, America and most countries pour money into national security, all sparked from Sputnik. The technology used to protect national security was also an outcome of the Space Race.

Technology has improved in leaps and bounds since the launch of Sputnik. The ability to put satellites into orbit has created many new technologies. “Without the launch of the satellites, the world would not have the GPS (Global Positioning System) and satellite T.V. (Dish, Direct TV, etc.). Satellites after Sputnik gave us the ability to use GPS (Global Positioning Systems) to help people navigate the world. In addition, satellites after Sputnik also gave detailed weather reports including satellite images of the weather in real time, as well as accurate predictions of temperature and various forms of precipitation and natural disasters” (Sputnik). Technology has had its own “boom” since the age of Sputnik. For example, the common cell phones can now process more data today than a supercomputer of that time period. Technology has helped people advance in every aspect of life, none of what we have today would even be imagined without the pressure of Sputnik.

In conclusion, the launch of Sputnik has affected peoples’ lives in many ways, some more noticeable than others. The apparent fear that the launch of Sputnik caused in the United States was really a blessing in disguise. It brought about an improved education system, advancements in science, new ways to gather intelligence, and innovative technologies. Despite the fact that Russia launched the first satellite, the United States became a world leader in technology because of their practical use of the satellite.

Works Cited

Bates, Stephen and Edwin Diamond. “Sputnik.” American Heritage 48.n6 October 1997. 84-89. General One File. Web. 22 April 2013.

Garber, Steve. “Sputnik and the Dawn of the Space Age.” NASA, 10 October 2007. Web. 23 April 2013.

Launius, Roger D. “Sputnik and the Origins of the Space Age.” NASA, n.d. September 2008. Web. 23 April 2013.

Hennessey, Joan. “Teaching Math and Science.” 6 September 2002. General One File. Web. 12 May 2013.


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