The Sputnik Reaction
There is no question that the American reaction to the launch and orbit of Sputnik on October 4, 1957 was more than unnerving; it even caused fear and foreboding in some. While the satellite was just a 23-inch diameter sphere weighing 184 lbs. that simply went “Beep Beep,” it was the first satellite in orbit. More disturbing was the fact that the upper stage of the R-7 booster rocket weighing over 7 tons was also in orbit. If the Soviets could put that much mass into orbit they could clearly launch a nuclear weapon. If you didn’t believe the news, you could go outside and see it (the upper stage, not the satellite) moving across the night sky; a phenomenon that no one had ever witnessed before.