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Sputnik 1  (Source: NASA)
Remembering Sputnik 50 years later

Even though the Sputnik anniversary took place last week, on Thursday, October 4, the additional time has allowed my mind to finally grasp the significance of such an amazing event 50 years ago.  

The Sputnik launch was highly celebrated in Russia and other parts of the world, with unmanned space missions effectively ushering in a new era of space excitement.  The first Sputnik satellite had a 23-inch diameter and weighed in at 183-lbs., but the fact that it became the Earth's second satellite - the first man-made satellite - is of significant importance.  As the craft whizzed around during its 96-minute Orbit of our planet, the Soviets were thrilled while Americans were jealous and worried about Russia's progress.  

"My bubble had burst.  I had thought that the United States was the scientific and technological leader of the world.  But the Soviets had just thrashed us on our own home field," said Normal Augustine, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who was a Princeton University graduate student at the time of the Sputnik launch.

Since the Soviets were the first to launch a satellite into orbit, the United States gave science and mathematics research a new priority.   It cannot be forgotten that Sputnik's launch also helped influence a new generation of teaching for children and college students in Russia, in an attempt to make sure they stayed technologically superior to the Americans.  

"It influenced a new type of education, so-called specialized schools, which started soon after Sputnik," said Vasil Kharchenko, a scientist who now lives in the U.S.  "My generation enjoyed the benefits of the post-Sputnik era. We got for free the best education in science and mathematics."

Although my generation is seeing a growing space race between several different nations trying to get back to the moon and eventually to Mars, it simply can't be compared to the day Sputnik began to orbit Earth.

Speaking of Sputnik, Google received a bit of flak after changing the Google logo to highlight the anniversary of Sputnik.  It looks like a well known right-wing online news publication took strong offense to Google giving props to "communist Sputnik" while deciding not to celebrate Memorial Day.




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