Sputnik shock

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Soviet postage stamp shows Sputnik's first orbit
Observers in the Netherlands followed the overflight in October 1957

Sputnik shock is the name given to the political and social reactions in the Western world , especially the USA and Western Europe , to the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957 (local time: 2:50 a.m., October 5) by the Soviet Union . At the height of the Cold War at that time, space travel was one of the areas in which the Soviet Union and the United States competed. On top of that with the missile R-7 - was the Soviet Union now appears able to US territory with - the support system of the Sputnik nuclear -tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles to achieve.


A direct consequence of the Sputnik shock was increased US efforts to achieve technological superiority in the space race. He accelerated the Western rocket programs (including that of the British, see Blue Streak ) and led to the establishment of NASA to streamline the space program.

One program to strengthen cooperation and network communication was the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) , a division of the United States Department of Defense that gave rise to ARPANET , a forerunner of today's Internet .

The enormous publicity effect came as a surprise to the Soviet rulers themselves, but was then used purposefully for propaganda purposes; further funds were also released to demonstrate the superiority of communism . Just four years later, Yuri Gagarin was the first person to be shot into space.

The chemical engineer, ex-marine radio operator and private space researcher Heinz Kaminski (1921–2002) from the Bochum observatory at the adult education center received radio signals from space on the night of October 5, 1957, as the first and only Western European body, thus providing evidence of its existence from Sputnik.

Sputnik helped the arms industries on both sides to new record deals. Similar to the alleged so-called bomber gap between the USA and its adversary, the CIA confirmed a missile gap and thus underpinned the arms race . In expert circles, the first satellite did not even come as a surprise, as it was announced during the International Geophysical Year .

US educational policy

The Sputnik shock triggered a crisis in the self-perception of Americans. Democracy and the free market economy alone were not enough to maintain the technological superiority that was partially achieved in previous years. The Americans were shocked by the fact that the communist, planned-economy Soviet Union had come before the US in space . Demands for a fundamental reform of the education system gained broad popular support. The aim was to beat the Soviet Union in the space race .

A reform of the US education system had already been initiated by President Truman in 1946 through the formation of a commission; in 1956, President Eisenhower had set up another commission, the Committee on Education Beyond the High School . After the start of Sputnik, however, according to reports in US magazines, there seemed to be some catching up to do, especially in the natural sciences, as the Soviet Union trained twice to three times the number of engineers. Vice President Nixon publicly criticized Eisenhower , telling business leaders that the need to bridge the technology gap between the US and the Soviet Union could make tax cuts impossible.

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower , who in a speech gave education policy a higher priority than rocket production, set up the federal aid to education program. This program had a total volume of $ 1.6 billion. This flowed into the education system in additional federal funds over a period of four years.

These funds were used to:

  1. Quadruple the National Science Foundation's annual budget to $ 134 million.
  2. 20,000 scholarships to be awarded.
  3. promote teacher training.
  4. to pay for the construction of new schools.

With these measures, a main focus was placed on the promotion of the previously uneducated classes, which represented a not yet activated educational reserve. The development of this reserve was also promoted in the following years through measures in early childhood education (establishment of preschools) and through the establishment of a school bus service. It also enabled children from remote areas to get to centrally located schools.

As a further measure, the school curriculum was redesigned. Courses that dealt primarily with housekeeping or specific vocational training were removed from the curriculum in favor of subjects such as mathematics , physics and chemistry .

Eisenhower's plans also provided for the promotion of humanities subjects such as political science , history and linguistics . This promotion should produce wise leaders who can use technological advances to benefit the American people.

Under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson also:

  1. the educational television introduced.
  2. Inspired by the Weinberg Report, educational institutions such as libraries are networked in order to ensure better access to education.
  3. the New Math program (see New Mathematics ) was launched, which brought the children into contact with abstract mathematics very early on.

See also


  • Stephen E. Ambrose: Eisenhower Vol. 2 - The President 1952-1969 . Allen & Unwin, London 1984, ISBN 0-04-923075-1 (English).
  • Paul Dickson: Sputnik - The shock of the century . Walker, New York, NY 2001, ISBN 0-8027-1365-3 (English).
  • Robert A. Divine: The Sputnik Challenge . New York 1993, ISBN 0-19-505008-8 (English).
  • Thomas Kellein : Sputnik shock and moon landing : major artistic projects from Yves Klein to Christo . Hatje, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-7757-0284-9 .
  • Georg Picht: The German educational catastrophe. Analysis and documentation. Walter, Olten / Freiburg im Breisgau 1964, 2nd edition: dtv TB 349, Munich 1965.
  • Igor J. Polianski, Matthias Schwartz (ed.): The track of the Sputnik. Cultural-historical expeditions into the cosmic age . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-593-39042-0 .
  • Deborah D. Stine: US Civilian Space Policy Priorities: Reflections 50 Years After Sputnik . (PDF; 1.2 MB) Congressional Research Service, Federation of American Scientists 2008 (English, 25 pages).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Statement by the President Making Public a Report of the Commission on Higher Education. dated December 15, 1947
  2. ^ The President's Committee on Education Beyond the High School. First Interim Report to the President. Washington, DC (President's Committee on Education Beyond the High School, Room 4030 South): Department of Health. Education, and Welfare, 1956. , Published April 1957
  3. Ed Creagh: Nixon Seemed More Concerned over Sputnik Than President . Ed .: Rome News-Tribune. October 17, 1957 ( surveillancevalley.com [PDF; accessed May 11, 2020]).