History changed 65 years ago today, on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1. The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball -- about 23 inches in diameter -- and weighed less than 190 pounds. It took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That single launch ushered in a whole array of new political, military, technological, and scientific developments in the years that followed. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the Space Age… and the US - USSR space race. While President Eisenhower congratulated the Soviets and tried to downplay the importance of the accomplishment, he misjudged the public reaction to the event. The launch of Sputnik 1 had a "Pearl Harbor-like" effect on the American public psyche. It was a shock that exposed a significant technological gap in US capabilities and in the years to come, provided the necessary impetus for increased spending in aerospace endeavors, technical and scientific educational programs, and the chartering of new federal agencies to manage air and space research and development.
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