The launch of Sputnik 1 had a large impact on the Soviet Union and its people. It was a joyous occasion for supporters of the Soviet Union and an equally frightening one for those in the United States. The successful launch of Sputnik 1 was a major victory for the Soviet Union, for they had become the first nation to send an object into orbit. Sputnik 1, however, had very limited capabilities. Although it was extremely fast, with an orbit time of only 96 minutes, all it did was emit a high pitched beep. This allowed people to track its whereabouts for research and space exploration purposes. It could not take pictures or do anything more sophisticated. In retrospect, the anxiety about Sputnik’s launch seems to be much ado about nothing; however its symbolic meaning and historical implications were immense.
While Sputnik 1 marks a relatively peaceful, yet major development in the “space race” between the United States and the Soviet Union, the successful production of Soviet ICBM’s (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) does not. As the Soviet Union became the first nation to venture beyond the Earth’s atmosphere with Sputnik 1, they also proved their destructive capabilities by producing ICBMs before the United States in August 1957. Many parallels can be drawn between these two similar objects and the reactions that they evoked, the most blatant of which being that the launches of both projectiles represent aspects of the Cold War in which the Soviet Union bested the United States.
The Soviets successfully tested their first ICBM late in 1957, almost a full two years before the United States would in 1959. This major accomplishment is akin to that of the launch of Sputnik. The capabilities of the ICBM gave the Soviet Union a clear upper hand in the Cold War. This Soviet missile could reach a target nearly 4,000 miles away, meaning that the Soviets could hit the eastern seaboard of the United States. Furthermore, both objects proved the technological superiority of the Soviet Union at the time. However, equally so, both objects also created immense anxiety in both nations for they showed that nuclear warfare could be a reality looming on the horizon.
The launch of Sputnik 1 was not only consequential because it was the first object in outer space, but it also initiated a major portion of the space race within the Cold War, including the production of ICBMs, which created a new aura of hostility between the two powerful nations. The success of Sputnik 1 represented the superiority of the Soviet Union technologically, and this sentiment would stand until the United States first put a man on the moon in July 1969. Sputnik was certainly a monumental object in Russian history, and in the Cold War, and its presence and influence will surely not soon be forgotten.
Oh little Sputnik, flying high
You say on fairway and on rough
G. Mennen Williams
- Matt Caminiti, December 2009