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NOVA: Sputnik Declassified based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
The story begins with the launch of a small satellite emitting a cicada-sounding beeping (added so that ham radio operators could verify it had actually been launched) and ends with America's entry into the space race. But that was only the outer layer of the tale. Turns out, there was a big legal debate going on about the upper atmosphere: was it free territory, or did it belong to the countries directly below it? But that didn't stop both the U.S. and the Soviets from developing satellites -- tied in with a newly-designated year of scientific research to avoid the risk of war. When Sputnik was launched first, while the public panicked, Eisenhower and company were secretly relieved that the Soviets had solved the territorial problem for them. The traditional view was that Eisenhower was basically asleep at the switch when Sputnik caught America off guard. Not according to newly-declassified material; not only was the President much more hands-on than the public realized, but his vision for using satellites to replace the riskier U-2 and other aircraft reconnaissance missions over Soviet territory was rather ahead of its time. The problem was that his focus was too narrow -- he didn't believe in manned space flight, thought it was a waste of time and money, space should be the domain of the military and only the military. But all that went out the window with the public reaction to Sputnik and Sputnik 2, followed by the disastrous rush to launch the first American satellite, a purely scientific probe chosen simply because its launch vehicle couldn't be used for war, unlike the Werner von Braun rockets (despite that, von Braun and his team clandestinely tested THEIR launch apperati, IN CASE the other one failed). With 20-20 hindsight, they should've combined the two; the von Braun launch system was the better one, but the satellite that was chosen was considered to have had the better equipment. But that wasn't done. So, after the chosen satellite imploded during launch, the one that would succeed, equipped with scientific instruments courtesy of Van Allen (for whom the Van Allen belt the mission discovered would be named) took off successfully and outdid both Sputnik missions. The U.S. then began its inevitable race to the moon, introduced more intense courses in science and the "new math" to the classrooms, and the world changed. But, even though Eisenhower's reputation took a body blow, he triumphed in a small, secret way -- his ultimate goal, the Corona satellite, went into orbit and provided enough data to give the U.S. a sizable advantage in future talks with the Soviets.