by: Aaron George Bailey
Sherwood, Arkansas USA
This Web Page was created on October 4, 2007

Sputnik-1 - Russia's Baby Moon Surprise        
Since the beginning of time humans have gazed up into the night sky in wonder.  A misty link from the
past, something almost maternal in nature, beckoned mankind to connect with the cosmos.  Early man
stretched out his hand against the night sky, and in the minds eye he joined the twinkling points of light
into crude figures which he could relate too.  
We know them today as constellations such as "Orion the
Hunter" with his dog stars Canis Major and Canis Minor.  Collectively the different constellations formed
the first rudimentary star maps.  Over time man observed
order in the night sky as he studied the cyclic
change of star positions which moved in step with the seasons.  
Some tribes built crude stone circles,
references in the earth to help predict the movement of heavenly bodies over the course of a year.  
Orbital progression of the earth, plus its rotation on a tilted axis, caused the sun and the tapestry of star
fields to move over these early observatories.  These were mans first calendar, helping him determine
more accurately the seasons and when to plant and harvest crops.  And so too ancient mariners looked
toward the stars and learned the art of navigation, in frail ships of discovery and commerce they ventured
forth, steering by the heavenly points of light.  God's far flung canopy of suns seemed peaceful and good,
helping mankind in his struggle against nature.  Up until this time humankind's knowledge of the universe
had always been limited to observations by the unaided eye.  But what secrets could the night sky reveal,
if only cosmic distances could be spanned or compressed for a closer view?   
The year 1609 marked a
step forward in the science of astronomy when Galileo Galilei built a telescope, although he wasn't the
first to do so.   Galileo is noteworthy because of his keen scientific curiosity and his habit of documenting
his observations.   At first, as an act of patriotism, he offered his spy glass to the Italian home guard.  Such
a powerful looking glass could be used to scan seaward and provide an early warning of approaching
enemy ships.  By nature Galileo bubbled with curiosity and he couldn't resist turning his homemade
telescope toward the heavens.  More questions than answers surged through his mind from his early
observations.  Soon he named his device "Old Discoverer" as he began a serious investigation of the
night sky.  One of the first objects Galileo turned his x20 power telescope toward was the moon.  He must
have puzzled over the moonscape which seemed to be such a contrast to earth's surface.  "Why would the
surface of two celestial neighbors appear to be so radically different", he must have ask himself?  Little
did he know, that unlike earth, the pot marked lunar face was unwashed by wind and water and it
represented a pristine record of the past.  It turns out that his discovery was an ancient record that was
written by impact events.  In fact, our crater scared moon proves that all is not tranquil in the heavens.  
could it be that earth has been plummeted and the history of life has been altered by the impact
of colossal intruders from the sky?  Based on the geological record, one popular theory suggests, that it
was just such
a cosmic hammer which abruptly ended the age of the dinosaurs.  Fortunately, humans have
witnessed the more benign examples of comets and meteors and the age of mammals has been spared
such a fate.  Nonetheless, comets, huge meteor events, super novas, lunar eclipses, planet conjunctions
and UFO/earth lights are random oddities which dominate and disrupt the order of the night sky.  
Throughout history the significance of such events was recorded in script and even depicted in cave and
Renaissance art.  Cosmic spectacles were unsettling to the sky watchers and early man reckoned they
were a sign of some momentous happening, like the birth of a king or perhaps another observer might
view the same event as a bad omen of impending doom.  The Fall sky of 1957 held the same kind of bitter
sweet surprise for modern man as well.  At a desolate outpost in the wind swept steppes of Kazakhstan, a
Russian team of engineers and technicians secretly nurtured their dream of space flight.  It was from here,
planet earth's future portal into space, that they groomed a huge rocket.  Nestled within its nose cone was
a special cargo, a human creation.  It was this payload, a simple polished aluminum sphere,
and in
particular its separated rocket stage,
which would treat unsuspecting earthlings to a celestial light show,
signaling the birth of a new age.  
They called it Sputnik and for most of the world its name had as much
mystique as outer space itself.  When rocketed into earth orbit it became the cosmic event of the 20th
century as it streaked across the black velvet of the October sky.  The sight of the Sputnik/rocket gliding
across the night sky brought pride to some, fear to others and a sense of wonder to all.  Passing over
most of the planets population,
Sputnik announced the embryonic Space Age with a beeping radio signal
as it orbited the earth once every 96 minutes.  This mysterious artificial moon made an indelible mark on
the human consciousness as being the first man-made object to reach earth orbit.  It was a bookmark in
history after which humankind would forever make its presence known in the heavens. The heavy lift
rocket technology that it demonstrated would ultimately lead to mankind's escape from the bounds of
earth.  Sputnik was a powerful event which pulled at a broad spectrum of human emotion.  It caused both
amazement and fear to spread throughout the nation when invading American air space on October 4th.  
Most shocking of all was the fact that it was rocketed into earth orbit by the Soviet Union, a pushy,
ideological enemy of the U.S. and a nation thought to be technologically inferior to America.  
Russia's baby moon was a simple device, just a beach ball size aluminum sphere containing two radio
transmitters and studded with four long rod antennas.  Up until this time, America was recognized as a
high-tech leader of the world.  But the orbiting of Sputnik, demonstrated a technical capability which the
United States didn't have.  Figuratively speaking, the capability to insert a working electronics package
into earth orbit represented the technological gem of the whole achievement.  This marriage of modern
electronics and satellites would ultimately give birth to a new level of technology which would benefit all
mankind.  Indeed, gaining worldwide prestige over putting Sputnik in orbit was like a crown jewel for the
Soviet Union and she wore it with pride.  Conversely,
America was embarrassed and felt outclassed by a
nation of peasants, she was shocked and reacted like a jewel had been plucked from her technological
crown.  After all she was working on a satellite project too.  Sputnik was belittled by American officialdom
with comments that compared it to a  “useless hunk of iron”.
(2)  In truth Sputnik was a simple device but it
was up there, beeping away, and national recognition for this  was a hard earned achievement, a
technological jewel, which rightfully belonged to the Soviets.  Years of tension between the two nuclear
powers created the mindset for American reaction to Sputnik.   Pure and simple, it was "good guy" verses
"bad guy", depending of course, to which camp you belonged.  The two world powers were toe to toe,
both armed with nuclear weapons and both locked in an ideological life or death struggle.  This
frightening period of time in the second half of the 20th century was referred to as the Cold War.  Sputnik
fueled the intensity of the Cold War and smacked of science fiction come true.  It greeted Americans when
evening television was interrupted by a special news break.  A radio receiver at RCA intercepted the first
eerie beeps of Sputnik which were then dispatched to the NBC and CBS networks for airing.  As a
youngster this web page keeper remembers hearing that startling broadcast.  That Friday evening would
be remembered as Sputnik night and it hit America like a bombshell. "Was it a spy apparatus; did the
beeps contain a cryptic code; what was it telling us about the unknown cosmos; and why didn't America
have such a device up there reporting back from the heavens,"  these were some of the questions ask?  
But the collective, nagging question was, "is this a prototype for a fleet of
nuclear armed satellites," which
on command could rain down a deadly barrage of atomic bombs on U.S. Cities?  Americans went about
their daily routine under the circling Sputnik, mindful of the future threat of sneak attack from killer
It would be what military planners feared most and that is a Cold War atomic version of Pearl

NEXT - Chapter #3 - page 2 of 2

Reflecting sunlight back to earth, Sputnik II glides through the pre-dawn sky.
Photo by Paul Donaldson - Arlington, Mass. - Sputnik II at 5:08AM 11/7/1957