Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, was launched from the Soviet Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 4, 1957. The satellite orbited the earth every ninety-six minutes, broadcasting signals from two radio transmitters that could be picked up by amateur radio operators around the world. Thus, the launch of Sputnik literally heralded the start of the “space race,” as the satellite remained in orbit, broadcasting for three months before falling back to earth. Sputnik marked a historic moment in space exploration, as well as a historic turning point in American education.

For the American public, this Soviet triumph symbolized a threat to American security, while calling into question American superiority in science and technology. In short, the United States was forced to ponder what it meant to ...

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