Sputnik, Why Does It Matter Today?

“Oh little Sputnik, flying high

With made-in-Moscow beep,

You tell the world it’s a Commie sky

and Uncle Sam’s asleep.”

-G. Mennen Williams, the Governor of Michigan 1957

On October 4th 1957, the world changed forever. For the very first time a man made object orbited earth. Sputnik, the very first satellite.

NASA-Imagery / Pixabay

Sputnik created space as we know it today, but not in the way most expect. Sputnik did not retrieve information or truly accomplish much scientifically after it began orbiting earth. What Sputnik created was fear, an emotion felt throughout a nation that inspired new technology and investment, changing billions of lives. 

Design wise Sputnik was simple yet sturdy, it was made up of aluminum alloy and was about the size of a beach ball. 

Despite popular belief at the time,Sputnik was unable to listen or record data. It let off a simple beep.

That second long beep was all it took to cause panic across America.

There was conflict brewing between America and Russia leading up to the launch, causing Americans to worry about their privacy. Many believed Sputnik was listening, collecting data to use against the U.S.

The fact that it did not contain a listening device was irrelevant, the reaction to Sputnik was the most important. 

Sputnik was absorbed into American culture. Sputnik was this scary unreal thing plastered everywhere. Used for advertising, seen regularly in the news, featured in T.V shows.


Overall Sputnik was on everyone’s mind.

These new found worries pushed the government to fund STEM based school programs. This was called the NDEA or the National Defense Education Act.

There had previously been resistance against the federal government aiding education. In 1958, They  were able to pass the National Defense Education Act based on the fact that those who originally opposed had changed their minds. The NDEA made education possible for millions of Americans. In 1960 there were 3.6 million students in college. By 1970 there were 7.5 million, many of whom received NDEA loans.

Another reaction to Sputnik was the founding of NASA. Constructed and created the summer of 1958, just 9 months after Sputnik launched. 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) a civilian agency tasked with pioneering America’s involvement in space, Was appointed by the U.S congress. While space projects were already in the works, Sputnik and other events related to the Cold War urged the U.S government to act.

WikiImages / Pixabay

Following Sputnik the world of science and math changed dramatically. Those subjects became prioritized and highlighted in curriculum’s across America. Scientists came together through new agencies and military funded programs. The space age was accelerated forwards, all because of Sputnik.

Not Only did Sputnik greatly impact Education and Science, it also affected politics and culture.

During Sputniks Launch President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon were in office. Eisenhower and Nixon were members of the Republican Party.

Many were unhappy with Eisenhower’s response to Sputnik, his lack of urgency had a bad impression on America. When the next Election took place in 1960. American citizens wanted change. John F Kennedy, a democrat. Established a campaign focused on winning the Space Race and civil rights, both of which were prevalent during the time. The Election between Nixon and Kennedy was one of the closest in American History, Kennedy won by 112, 827 in the popular vote.

7089643 / Pixabay

Winning the Space race was a large part of Kennedy’s campaign. Without Sputnik and the growing interest in space, Kennedy could’ve possibly lost the Election in 1960.


As a I briefly mentioned before Sputnik had a huge influence on pop culture. Whether Sputnik was the inspiration for a film, an ad campaign or slang, it no doubt affected American culture.

My favourite example of Sputniks effect is the term “Beatnik”.

The word was coined by Herb Caen who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle. The word combined Sputnik with the “Beat” generation. The word was widely popularized and was used to describe those that supported the Civil rights movements and were thought to be Pro- Communist. This word was extremely popular and important to the the 1950s-1960s. It was a word that described a world changing mouvement, a moment of mass self expression and protest.

Sputnik is so much more important than I ever could’ve imagined. Who would’ve thought on Aluminum beach ball could’ve accomplished so much. It  Inspired political change, advancements in science, and pushed the government to prioritize education. Sputnik was one of the most significant events in our history. Everyone should know how much it changed the world…..

– Kaia

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