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10/05/2007

Sputnik, Part I

October 4, 1957

“Leave It To Beaver” premiered the evening of 10/4/57 on CBS,
but it kind of got lost in the shuffle as one of the century’s big
events was announced to the world the Soviets had launched
the first man-made satellite, “Sputnik.”

It’s hard for many these days to understand just how big a deal
this was, particularly if you were born after 1950 or so, but this
little beach ball-sized sphere, weighing all of 184 pounds,
changed the world.

It took 96 minutes for Sputnik to orbit the Earth and from
October 4 through October 26, the chirp, or beep-beep, that could
be heard around the globe through radio transmissions had an
unbelievable impact on the psyche of most Americans, in
particular.

Sputnik transformed debate in this country. After some initial
euphoria that man was able to accomplish such a seemingly
impossible task, fear took hold. The U.S. was supposed to have
a huge technological advantage over the Soviet Union and the
launch of this satellite caused many to doubt whether this was
truly the case. It didn’t help matters that three days later on
October 7, the Soviets also tested a hydrogen bomb. Suddenly,
this disciplined nation seemed to be able to compete on all levels,
a most disconcerting thought.

Five years ago I read an excellent book titled “Sputnik: The
Shock of the Century” by Paul Dickson, which spends a great
deal of time going into the America of 1957, so I thought I’d
pass some of it along. [As you read this, you’ll also recognize a
few parallels to our post-9/11 world.]

Sputnik was launched on a Friday, and the following Monday
CBS radio commentator Eric Sevareid - for those too young to
ever hear this man, you missed something; that doom and gloom
editor of “Week in Review” couldn’t hold a candle to this guy –
began his broadcast:

“Here in the capital, responsible men think and talk of little but
the metal spheroid that now looms larger in the eye of the mind
than the planet it circles around.”

A reporter for the Washington Post, Chalmers Roberts, wrote of
the three things that were most on the minds of official
Washington (as author Dickson relates): “That Sputnik would
have an extreme impact on the leaders of the underdeveloped
world, who see it as a victory for socialism; that its surprising
size and weight proved the Soviet Union had the power to launch
and deliver an ‘intercontinental ballistic missile with a multi-
megaton hydrogen bomb warhead of several thousand pounds’ to
any point on the face of the Earth; and that a big argument was
about to break out in Washington as to what must be done and
who was responsible.”

But what was the America of 1957 really like? Well, for starters,
around the time of Sputnik, President Eisenhower had a real
problem on his hands with the battle over desegregation down in
Little Rock at Central High. More broadly, we were a nation of
170 million, the minimum wage was a $1, and a gallon of gas
was 23 cents.

The crime rate was soaring, though, to its highest level ever, and
there were some high-profile criminals in those days, including
George Metesky, who was arrested in Waterbury, Connecticut,
after confessing to be the “Mad Bomber,” as he planted 32
devices that injured 16 people in the New York area. Bomb
hoaxes spread all over the country, until he was caught.

There was also the case of Ed Gein, a 51-year-old handyman and
sometime baby-sitter, who was involved in a series of brutal
murders and grave-robberies. The details of Gein’s crimes were
so gruesome that most newspapers left out the details. Is the
name slightly familiar? Well, that would be because Ed Gein
was the inspiration for Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs,” as
well as Norman Bates in “Psycho.”

But back to Sputnik, Ross Perot said “My life changed right
there and then,” while over at Harvard Law, Ralph Nader
recalled, “It hit the campus like a thunderbolt.”

Author James Michener was on a military transport the evening
of October 4 that was forced to ditch in the Pacific. He was
rescued, after floating for hours in a raft, but all his rescuers
could talk about was Sputnik.

The second Sunday after the launch, Dickson writes that the
“pulpits of America rang with every sort of commentary, a few
going so far as to assert that it foretold the Second Coming of
Christ.” And there is the famous story that rocker Little Richard
saw Sputnik in the sky (as small as it was, it was still viewable
with the naked eye at certain points in the day) while performing
in Sydney, Australia. He saw it as a sign and walked off stage,
renouncing rock ‘n’ roll for a spell, while he became an
evangelist.

Even the understated Senate legend Mike Mansfield proclaimed,
“What is at stake is nothing less than our survival.”

As for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, some, such as author
Stephen Ambrose (“Eisenhower: Soldier and President”) call it
Ike’s finest hour, because the President, knowing far more about
America’s own satellite / ballistic missile research than he let on,
refused to panic. Ike was shocked, however, at the “intensity of
the public concern.”

The main thing Eisenhower did was resist the call to throw
$billions into the military industrial complex, though his own
vice president, Richard Nixon, was for such a program.

---

Launched on October 4, the signal died on October 26, though
the craft orbited silently another 70 days. Sputnik did nothing
more than go ‘beep-beep,’ but this was the Cold War, after all,
and few in the West had any confidence that this was all Sputnik
was designed for.

Of course the big concern was how the Russians got Sputnik in
the air in the first place. Information on the booster rocket
wasn’t known for years, but one ‘good’ that came out of this
scare was the fact it strengthened NATO, which now recognized
the threat assessment from the Soviet Union had gone up
considerably.

Sputnik also undercut the stock market, and the U.S. economy
was in full recession. As author Dickson noted, “Speculation on
Wall Street was that the president deliberately had not reacted
strongly to Sputnik to minimize its economic impact. It had been
argued that if Eisenhower had expressed fear and panic, there
would have been a run on the bank.” [Parallels to today?]

You have to picture that with Sputnik crossing the U.S. 4-6 times
a day, most Americans suddenly felt vulnerable for the first time
in their lives. After all, not one single enemy aircraft penetrated
the skies of the continental U.S. during World War II.

But while the signal from the craft died on October 26, 1957, just
one week later, November 3rd, the Soviets launched Sputnik
II only this time instead of a 184-pound beach ball, Sputnik II
was 1,118-lbs. What kind of rocket was able to propel this far
bigger craft into space? Further, there was actual cargo on
board in the form of a 14-lb. female mongrel, part Samoyed
terrier, named “Laika.”

The Soviets had rigged a life-support system for the dog,
designed to last at least 100 hours, though there was one
problem. As of this time, there was no way to bring a craft
safely back to Earth, so many were a bit disconcerted that this
animal was doomed. And, as it turns out, Laika died on the 4th
day due to the fact that a heat shield had broken off on launch
and the capsule overheated but this wasn’t known until long
after the fact. Sputnik II was up in the air for five months before
it crash landed.

With their apparent rocket capability, the new fear in the U.S.
and the West was that the Russians would be in a position to
blackmail their enemies with these new missiles that they had to
be building. Famed reporter Edward R. Murrow went so far as
to say that the U.S. could no longer negotiate from a position of
strength.

Finally, on December 6, 1957, America launched its own
satellite, Vanguard, except there was one problem. It rose a few
feet off the ground and collapsed in a heap of flames. Pravda
proclaimed, “Oh, what a Flopnik!” Some Western papers read,
“Ike’s Sputnik Is Dudnik.” It didn’t help matters any that two
weeks after this disaster, a top-secret report (Gaither) was leaked
to the public and Americans learned that our military was unable
to defend itself against a Soviet attack, with the congressional
report calling for a missile defense to defend the country.

So, boys and girls, the more things change, the more they stay
the same. Missile defense is far from a new concept, that’s for
sure. And for those who long wistfully for those fabulous days
of the 1950s, do you really want to go back to this era? Doesn’t
sound much better than today, at least in terms of the fears that
the average American had.

---

One of the results of Sputnik was a huge surge in reports of
flying saucers. Supposedly, Kenneth Arnold of Boise, Idaho,
was the first to actually see one, back in 1947 over Mount
Ranier, Washington, which set off a slew of sightings over the
coming years. Then in October 1955, the Air Force released a
detailed study that laid all of the reports following Arnold’s as
being misinterpretations of “conventional phenomena.” Believe
it or not, by the end of 1955, basically, the subject was dead, that
is until Sputnik was launched.

Immediately, there was a proliferation in rocket clubs,
particularly with kids weaned on Buck Rogers and “Popular
Science.” But the clubs’ activities got so out of hand that the
state of Indiana banned them in Dec. ’57. [Must have been
some of the same folks who thought Elvis''s behavior was
subversive.]

Then something big happened on April 14, 1958. There were
reports of flying saucers up and down the East Coast, as well as
the Caribbean. This was no isolated case. According to
“Sputnik” author Dickson, many of the sightings were in
Connecticut and on Long Island, and the accounts were eerily
similar.

“They reported a brilliant, bluish-white object moving high
across the sky at an incredible speed. According to reports, it
suddenly turned red, and several smaller objects detached
themselves from the main object and fell into formation behind
it.”

Down in the Caribbean, observers on 15 different ships had
similar sightings that were later determined to be just minutes
after the Connecticut/Long Island reports. All relayed that up to
27 detached objects appeared to be trailing the main body.

Alas, guess what it was? Why nothing more than the flaming
death of Sputnik II which you’ll recall contained the corpse of
our space dog hero, Laika. Sputnik II had been in orbit 162 days
before giving out.

In fact, the vast majority of flying saucer reports are probably
nothing more than space debris. But despite the claims in 1958
that what people were seeing was really a burning satellite, there
were others who claimed that the Sputniks served as mating calls
to aliens. ‘The Complete Book of UFOs’ relates that back on
November 18, 1957, a 27-year-old mother from Birmingham,
England, Cynthia Appleton, “heard a high-pitched whistling
noise, smelled something like ozone, and saw a rose pink hue
spread throughout her suburban home. Out of the hue
materialized a tall humanoid creature with elongated eyes, pale
skin, and long blond hair. He wore a silver one-piece suit with a
covered helmet. Cynthia had a telepathic chat with the alien,
who told her that he was from a planet called Gharnasvarn,
which wanted to make peaceful contact but hesitated because of
the Earth’s atomic weapons. He made eight more visits (ed. I’m
assuming she served crumpets) and finally told her that she
would have a cosmic child.” [Source: Paul Dickson]

Actually, the above story goes even further, but I’ll cut it here.
Personally, I always thought these guys came from
Mandromadon.

Meanwhile, the United States did meet with success in its
competition with the Soviet Union, but in a most unexpected
fashion. In April 1958, a chap by the name of Harvey Lavan
Cliburn Jr., a 23-year-old Texan, won the first Tchaikovsky
Competition for pianists. Americans saw it as a victory over the
Russians at their own game – music – and in Moscow to boot.
Van Cliburn played 3 pieces*, all by Russian composers, and the
locals fell for him in a big way. He even visited with Premier
Nikita Khrushchev.

And this is hard to believe for anyone younger than 50, but Van
Cliburn received a hero’s welcome unlike any other in the U.S.
since Charles Lindbergh’s flight in 1927. Imagine, he even got a
ticker-tape parade in New York. Music critic Welton Jones,
writing in the San Diego Union Tribune, would later report, “For
that time and place he was bulletproof, a full set of Teflon-coated
attitudes and achievements politically correct decades before the
concept was labeled. After all, it was Van who paid back the
Russians for the insult of Sputnik.” [Source: Paul Dickson]

*For you classical music buffs, Van Cliburn’s 3 tunes were
Tchaikovsky’s “First Concerto” (required of all contestants),
Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto and a rondo by Dmitri
Kabalensky.

---

Some final thoughts on the legacy of the first man-made satellite.

--By 1964, 250,000 people were employed in the U.S. space
program, either directly or indirectly.

--The U.S. was now in a rush to get to the moon before the
Soviets, but this probably resulted in the tragedy of 1/27/67,
when Apollo I astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and
Roger Chafee were sitting in the capsule on the launch pad of
what was to be the first manned flight of Apollo, when an
electrical fire caused by a short-circuit produced a spark in an
atmosphere of pure oxygen. The fire was intense as a blowtorch
and the three died in seconds. A study later found that the
accident had a simple explanation, as the flight director put it.
“We’d gotten too much in a goddamn hurry.” From a risk
standpoint, imagine that the electrical system in the Apollo
capsule, the size of a minivan, had 30 miles of wire.

--Walter Cronkite, commenting in his book “A Reporter’s Life,”
on the accomplishment of landing a man on the moon:

“Of all humankind’s achievements in the twentieth century – and
all our gargantuan peccadillos as well, for that matter – the one
event that will dominate the history books a half a millennium
from now will be our escape from our earthly environment and
landing on the moon.”

--Gabriel Heatter, an influential news commentator of the 1950s,
offered up the following in January 1958, following the demise
of the first Sputnik.

“Thank you, Mr. Sputnik. You will never know how big a noise
you made. You gave us a shock which hit many people as hard
as Pearl Harbor. You hit our pride a frightful blow. You
suddenly made us realize that we are not the best in everything.
You reminded us of an old-fashioned American word, humility.
You woke us up out of a long sleep. You made us realize a
nation can talk too much, too long, too hard about money. A
nation, like a man, can grow soft and complacent. It can fall
behind when it thinks it is Number One in everything. Comrade
Sputnik, you taught us more about the Russians in one hour than
we had learned in forty years.”

Next week, more on Sputnik. I have a special treat for you. A
guest writer.

Brian Trumbore



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-10/05/2007-      
Web Epoch NJ Web Design  |  (c) Copyright 2016 StocksandNews.com, LLC.

Wall Street History

10/05/2007

Sputnik, Part I

October 4, 1957

“Leave It To Beaver” premiered the evening of 10/4/57 on CBS,
but it kind of got lost in the shuffle as one of the century’s big
events was announced to the world the Soviets had launched
the first man-made satellite, “Sputnik.”

It’s hard for many these days to understand just how big a deal
this was, particularly if you were born after 1950 or so, but this
little beach ball-sized sphere, weighing all of 184 pounds,
changed the world.

It took 96 minutes for Sputnik to orbit the Earth and from
October 4 through October 26, the chirp, or beep-beep, that could
be heard around the globe through radio transmissions had an
unbelievable impact on the psyche of most Americans, in
particular.

Sputnik transformed debate in this country. After some initial
euphoria that man was able to accomplish such a seemingly
impossible task, fear took hold. The U.S. was supposed to have
a huge technological advantage over the Soviet Union and the
launch of this satellite caused many to doubt whether this was
truly the case. It didn’t help matters that three days later on
October 7, the Soviets also tested a hydrogen bomb. Suddenly,
this disciplined nation seemed to be able to compete on all levels,
a most disconcerting thought.

Five years ago I read an excellent book titled “Sputnik: The
Shock of the Century” by Paul Dickson, which spends a great
deal of time going into the America of 1957, so I thought I’d
pass some of it along. [As you read this, you’ll also recognize a
few parallels to our post-9/11 world.]

Sputnik was launched on a Friday, and the following Monday
CBS radio commentator Eric Sevareid - for those too young to
ever hear this man, you missed something; that doom and gloom
editor of “Week in Review” couldn’t hold a candle to this guy –
began his broadcast:

“Here in the capital, responsible men think and talk of little but
the metal spheroid that now looms larger in the eye of the mind
than the planet it circles around.”

A reporter for the Washington Post, Chalmers Roberts, wrote of
the three things that were most on the minds of official
Washington (as author Dickson relates): “That Sputnik would
have an extreme impact on the leaders of the underdeveloped
world, who see it as a victory for socialism; that its surprising
size and weight proved the Soviet Union had the power to launch
and deliver an ‘intercontinental ballistic missile with a multi-
megaton hydrogen bomb warhead of several thousand pounds’ to
any point on the face of the Earth; and that a big argument was
about to break out in Washington as to what must be done and
who was responsible.”

But what was the America of 1957 really like? Well, for starters,
around the time of Sputnik, President Eisenhower had a real
problem on his hands with the battle over desegregation down in
Little Rock at Central High. More broadly, we were a nation of
170 million, the minimum wage was a $1, and a gallon of gas
was 23 cents.

The crime rate was soaring, though, to its highest level ever, and
there were some high-profile criminals in those days, including
George Metesky, who was arrested in Waterbury, Connecticut,
after confessing to be the “Mad Bomber,” as he planted 32
devices that injured 16 people in the New York area. Bomb
hoaxes spread all over the country, until he was caught.

There was also the case of Ed Gein, a 51-year-old handyman and
sometime baby-sitter, who was involved in a series of brutal
murders and grave-robberies. The details of Gein’s crimes were
so gruesome that most newspapers left out the details. Is the
name slightly familiar? Well, that would be because Ed Gein
was the inspiration for Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs,” as
well as Norman Bates in “Psycho.”

But back to Sputnik, Ross Perot said “My life changed right
there and then,” while over at Harvard Law, Ralph Nader
recalled, “It hit the campus like a thunderbolt.”

Author James Michener was on a military transport the evening
of October 4 that was forced to ditch in the Pacific. He was
rescued, after floating for hours in a raft, but all his rescuers
could talk about was Sputnik.

The second Sunday after the launch, Dickson writes that the
“pulpits of America rang with every sort of commentary, a few
going so far as to assert that it foretold the Second Coming of
Christ.” And there is the famous story that rocker Little Richard
saw Sputnik in the sky (as small as it was, it was still viewable
with the naked eye at certain points in the day) while performing
in Sydney, Australia. He saw it as a sign and walked off stage,
renouncing rock ‘n’ roll for a spell, while he became an
evangelist.

Even the understated Senate legend Mike Mansfield proclaimed,
“What is at stake is nothing less than our survival.”

As for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, some, such as author
Stephen Ambrose (“Eisenhower: Soldier and President”) call it
Ike’s finest hour, because the President, knowing far more about
America’s own satellite / ballistic missile research than he let on,
refused to panic. Ike was shocked, however, at the “intensity of
the public concern.”

The main thing Eisenhower did was resist the call to throw
$billions into the military industrial complex, though his own
vice president, Richard Nixon, was for such a program.

---

Launched on October 4, the signal died on October 26, though
the craft orbited silently another 70 days. Sputnik did nothing
more than go ‘beep-beep,’ but this was the Cold War, after all,
and few in the West had any confidence that this was all Sputnik
was designed for.

Of course the big concern was how the Russians got Sputnik in
the air in the first place. Information on the booster rocket
wasn’t known for years, but one ‘good’ that came out of this
scare was the fact it strengthened NATO, which now recognized
the threat assessment from the Soviet Union had gone up
considerably.

Sputnik also undercut the stock market, and the U.S. economy
was in full recession. As author Dickson noted, “Speculation on
Wall Street was that the president deliberately had not reacted
strongly to Sputnik to minimize its economic impact. It had been
argued that if Eisenhower had expressed fear and panic, there
would have been a run on the bank.” [Parallels to today?]

You have to picture that with Sputnik crossing the U.S. 4-6 times
a day, most Americans suddenly felt vulnerable for the first time
in their lives. After all, not one single enemy aircraft penetrated
the skies of the continental U.S. during World War II.

But while the signal from the craft died on October 26, 1957, just
one week later, November 3rd, the Soviets launched Sputnik
II only this time instead of a 184-pound beach ball, Sputnik II
was 1,118-lbs. What kind of rocket was able to propel this far
bigger craft into space? Further, there was actual cargo on
board in the form of a 14-lb. female mongrel, part Samoyed
terrier, named “Laika.”

The Soviets had rigged a life-support system for the dog,
designed to last at least 100 hours, though there was one
problem. As of this time, there was no way to bring a craft
safely back to Earth, so many were a bit disconcerted that this
animal was doomed. And, as it turns out, Laika died on the 4th
day due to the fact that a heat shield had broken off on launch
and the capsule overheated but this wasn’t known until long
after the fact. Sputnik II was up in the air for five months before
it crash landed.

With their apparent rocket capability, the new fear in the U.S.
and the West was that the Russians would be in a position to
blackmail their enemies with these new missiles that they had to
be building. Famed reporter Edward R. Murrow went so far as
to say that the U.S. could no longer negotiate from a position of
strength.

Finally, on December 6, 1957, America launched its own
satellite, Vanguard, except there was one problem. It rose a few
feet off the ground and collapsed in a heap of flames. Pravda
proclaimed, “Oh, what a Flopnik!” Some Western papers read,
“Ike’s Sputnik Is Dudnik.” It didn’t help matters any that two
weeks after this disaster, a top-secret report (Gaither) was leaked
to the public and Americans learned that our military was unable
to defend itself against a Soviet attack, with the congressional
report calling for a missile defense to defend the country.

So, boys and girls, the more things change, the more they stay
the same. Missile defense is far from a new concept, that’s for
sure. And for those who long wistfully for those fabulous days
of the 1950s, do you really want to go back to this era? Doesn’t
sound much better than today, at least in terms of the fears that
the average American had.

---

One of the results of Sputnik was a huge surge in reports of
flying saucers. Supposedly, Kenneth Arnold of Boise, Idaho,
was the first to actually see one, back in 1947 over Mount
Ranier, Washington, which set off a slew of sightings over the
coming years. Then in October 1955, the Air Force released a
detailed study that laid all of the reports following Arnold’s as
being misinterpretations of “conventional phenomena.” Believe
it or not, by the end of 1955, basically, the subject was dead, that
is until Sputnik was launched.

Immediately, there was a proliferation in rocket clubs,
particularly with kids weaned on Buck Rogers and “Popular
Science.” But the clubs’ activities got so out of hand that the
state of Indiana banned them in Dec. ’57. [Must have been
some of the same folks who thought Elvis''s behavior was
subversive.]

Then something big happened on April 14, 1958. There were
reports of flying saucers up and down the East Coast, as well as
the Caribbean. This was no isolated case. According to
“Sputnik” author Dickson, many of the sightings were in
Connecticut and on Long Island, and the accounts were eerily
similar.

“They reported a brilliant, bluish-white object moving high
across the sky at an incredible speed. According to reports, it
suddenly turned red, and several smaller objects detached
themselves from the main object and fell into formation behind
it.”

Down in the Caribbean, observers on 15 different ships had
similar sightings that were later determined to be just minutes
after the Connecticut/Long Island reports. All relayed that up to
27 detached objects appeared to be trailing the main body.

Alas, guess what it was? Why nothing more than the flaming
death of Sputnik II which you’ll recall contained the corpse of
our space dog hero, Laika. Sputnik II had been in orbit 162 days
before giving out.

In fact, the vast majority of flying saucer reports are probably
nothing more than space debris. But despite the claims in 1958
that what people were seeing was really a burning satellite, there
were others who claimed that the Sputniks served as mating calls
to aliens. ‘The Complete Book of UFOs’ relates that back on
November 18, 1957, a 27-year-old mother from Birmingham,
England, Cynthia Appleton, “heard a high-pitched whistling
noise, smelled something like ozone, and saw a rose pink hue
spread throughout her suburban home. Out of the hue
materialized a tall humanoid creature with elongated eyes, pale
skin, and long blond hair. He wore a silver one-piece suit with a
covered helmet. Cynthia had a telepathic chat with the alien,
who told her that he was from a planet called Gharnasvarn,
which wanted to make peaceful contact but hesitated because of
the Earth’s atomic weapons. He made eight more visits (ed. I’m
assuming she served crumpets) and finally told her that she
would have a cosmic child.” [Source: Paul Dickson]

Actually, the above story goes even further, but I’ll cut it here.
Personally, I always thought these guys came from
Mandromadon.

Meanwhile, the United States did meet with success in its
competition with the Soviet Union, but in a most unexpected
fashion. In April 1958, a chap by the name of Harvey Lavan
Cliburn Jr., a 23-year-old Texan, won the first Tchaikovsky
Competition for pianists. Americans saw it as a victory over the
Russians at their own game – music – and in Moscow to boot.
Van Cliburn played 3 pieces*, all by Russian composers, and the
locals fell for him in a big way. He even visited with Premier
Nikita Khrushchev.

And this is hard to believe for anyone younger than 50, but Van
Cliburn received a hero’s welcome unlike any other in the U.S.
since Charles Lindbergh’s flight in 1927. Imagine, he even got a
ticker-tape parade in New York. Music critic Welton Jones,
writing in the San Diego Union Tribune, would later report, “For
that time and place he was bulletproof, a full set of Teflon-coated
attitudes and achievements politically correct decades before the
concept was labeled. After all, it was Van who paid back the
Russians for the insult of Sputnik.” [Source: Paul Dickson]

*For you classical music buffs, Van Cliburn’s 3 tunes were
Tchaikovsky’s “First Concerto” (required of all contestants),
Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto and a rondo by Dmitri
Kabalensky.

---

Some final thoughts on the legacy of the first man-made satellite.

--By 1964, 250,000 people were employed in the U.S. space
program, either directly or indirectly.

--The U.S. was now in a rush to get to the moon before the
Soviets, but this probably resulted in the tragedy of 1/27/67,
when Apollo I astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and
Roger Chafee were sitting in the capsule on the launch pad of
what was to be the first manned flight of Apollo, when an
electrical fire caused by a short-circuit produced a spark in an
atmosphere of pure oxygen. The fire was intense as a blowtorch
and the three died in seconds. A study later found that the
accident had a simple explanation, as the flight director put it.
“We’d gotten too much in a goddamn hurry.” From a risk
standpoint, imagine that the electrical system in the Apollo
capsule, the size of a minivan, had 30 miles of wire.

--Walter Cronkite, commenting in his book “A Reporter’s Life,”
on the accomplishment of landing a man on the moon:

“Of all humankind’s achievements in the twentieth century – and
all our gargantuan peccadillos as well, for that matter – the one
event that will dominate the history books a half a millennium
from now will be our escape from our earthly environment and
landing on the moon.”

--Gabriel Heatter, an influential news commentator of the 1950s,
offered up the following in January 1958, following the demise
of the first Sputnik.

“Thank you, Mr. Sputnik. You will never know how big a noise
you made. You gave us a shock which hit many people as hard
as Pearl Harbor. You hit our pride a frightful blow. You
suddenly made us realize that we are not the best in everything.
You reminded us of an old-fashioned American word, humility.
You woke us up out of a long sleep. You made us realize a
nation can talk too much, too long, too hard about money. A
nation, like a man, can grow soft and complacent. It can fall
behind when it thinks it is Number One in everything. Comrade
Sputnik, you taught us more about the Russians in one hour than
we had learned in forty years.”

Next week, more on Sputnik. I have a special treat for you. A
guest writer.

Brian Trumbore