A Shift in the Cold War Balance
With the launch of Sputnik, The Soviets open a new Frontier and catch America off guard
Beeping. The observers waited for a report from a tracking station on the Kamchatka peninsula, more than 3,000 miles to the east. Soon word came that this listening post had picked up the distinctive beep of the satellite's radio transmitter. Excitement swept through the crowd. But the Chief Designer would not celebrate until his creation returned from the other side of the world.
Soon one listening post and then another reported hearing Sputnik's return to the sky over the U.S.S.R. [All told, it completed 1,400 orbits around the Earth, about 1 every 90 minutes.] Tears filled the Chief Designer's eyes as his dream was achieved. "The road to the stars," he told the crowd at Baykonur, "is now open."
Some say Khrushchev was beaming as he made a brief announcement from Kiev's Mariyinsky Palace. "The Americans have proclaimed to the world that they are preparing to launch a satellite of the Earth," he said, according to one source. "Theirs is only the size of an orange. We, on the other hand, now have a satellite circling the planet. And not a little one, but one that weighs 80 kilos."
Others say that Khrushchev didn't immediately grasp the significance of the accomplishment and its propaganda value. The Soviet leader, they say, prized only advances with apparent practical purposes, like new tractors and airplanes. The party newspaper Pravda published a mere three paragraphs on the event, and the item did not even lead the front page.
Soon enough, though, all that the Chief Designer had done would be obvious to the rest of the world.
From A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey by Michael D'Antonio. Copyright © 2007 by Michael D'Antonio. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York.