Did Sputnik Really Scare Americans That Much?

Jun 2011
The Old Dominion
I remember my father, then a captain, USN, assigned to Weapons Studies & Evaluation Group at the Pentagon, taking us out in the yard late, late at night to watch it go over. His comment was along the lines of " . . . remember this, it is history . . ." I was all of 5 years old and I do remember that tiny white dot passing slowly overhead.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
San Antonio, Tx
From what I have gathered it scared America from the standpoint of losing our global standing as a hegemon post WWII. USSR had already started a nuclear program as well. This generation of Americans was not that far removed from Pearl Harbor attack of 1941. They vowed to never be caught off guard like they were on December 7th and rember after the attack the U.S. Had only the 15th largest army in the world. Thus a counter action was needed and that meant more $$$$$ for math,science, and defense. American Congressmen love defense contracts for their districts and states.
The Soviets detonated their first nuclear device in 1948.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
The conventional wisdom is that the launch of Sputnik I by the Soviets in 1957 scared the crap out of the American people and that we poured money into the school systems to get more kids into math and science.

Is this actually true?

From what I've read in magazines at that time the "panic" was largely confined to the national media and decision makers in Washington D.C.
I would say so. It was a contentious time and the two nations were mortal enemies. Scientific research had yielded things such as nuclear weapons. Any significant scientific advance by one side would have caused the other to ratchet things up, for fear of falling behind and being subsumed.


Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
The Soviet union had a rocket program since the 1920ies

it gave some weird and wonderful fruits ,
the katiusha rocket artillery , dutifully copied by the Wehrmacht

the Jet assisted rockets for , of all thing ,the Tchaika biplane

batteries of T1 plane interceptors launched vertically with G forces which must have given nosebleed to the pilots

the Sputnik used the SL4 as a launcher designed by Koriolev , the godfather of the space program
taken from the Gulag to work on propulsion , he looked at the V2 and used some of their ideas but did it his own way by having five bunches of motors working in unison

with Sputnik , the Soviet union demonstrated that all the nuclear bomber fleet were obsolete , all the Air defenses were useless and the US could be bombed anywhere with no means to stop it and only minutes warning .

It was identical to the comment in the Times after report of the Merrimack/Virginia battle
"last month the Royal Navy had 200 ships of the line , now it has two

The Space program is still ongoing in Russia while it is moribund in the US
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