Sunday, May 1, 2016

The first dog in space

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  Soon after that, the U.S. tried to match the feat, unsuccessfully.  To quote Rick Perlstein's description in Before the Storm, p.69:
In 1957 Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would imminently catch up to the United States in the production of meat, milk, and butter.  The Soviets began testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.  Then, in October, Russia sent its bleeping medicine ball around the planet.  America's space-race debut was rushed to the launching pad, where it rose five feet before disintegrating into a fireball (headline: "FLOPNIK").
Compare the somewhat different impression of this episode given by Martin McCauley's Russia, America and the Cold War, 1949-1991 (Longman, 1998):
The space age was launched on 4 October 1957 when Sputnik circumnavigated the globe every 96 minutes.  It was a staggering achievement for Russian science to propel an 83.6 kg satellite into space for three months.... It was followed by another eight Sputniks which scored a dazzling list of firsts, the first dog in space, and so on.  Russian rocket technology was the best in the world and threatened to alter the balance of world power.... As events were to show, Khrushchev became dangerously over-confident.  Everything was not as it seemed.  Eisenhower had actually prevented America from being the first in space.  The capacity had been there but the U.S. President was concerned about sending a space vehicle over enemy territory.  He wanted the Russians to go first and then the Americans would follow.  Had the U.S. gone first, it might have lowered the tension of the ensuing five years. [p.31]
Eisenhower wanted the Russians to go first?!  No wonder Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch Society) thought Ike was a tool of international Communism (note to the humor-impaired: joke).             

More seriously, why, if the capability was there, did the first U.S. effort to match Sputnik disintegrate practically on the launch pad?  Presumably because the capability hadn't been operationalized (or actualized, if you prefer that word), and then the U.S. rushed its response, with predictable results.

By the way, I feel sorry for the first dog in space (mentioned in the McCauley quote above); I hope it was given a suitable reward.  Ditto for the terrified-looking monkeys that the Soviets launched into orbit -- at least as I recall, from seeing pictures.

Here's Rousseau: "...since... [animals] share to some extent in our nature by virtue of their having sensations, it will be judged that they must also participate in natural right, and that man is subject to some kind of duties toward them.  Indeed, it seems that if I am obligated to do no evil to my fellow man, it is less because he is a rational being than because he is a sentient being -- a property that, because it is common to both animals and men, should at least give the beast the right not to be needlessly mistreated by man." (Discourse on Inequality [Preface], Oxford World's Classics edition, trans. Franklin Philip, p.18)


Btw, Russia has a new cosmodrome, i.e. space launch site. 

ETA: A bit of cursory research reveals that a lot of books have been published in the last 25 years or so on the space race in general and Sputnik in particular.


hank_F_M said...


Bow Wow!

More seriously, why, if the capability was there, did the first U.S. effort to match Sputnik disintegrate practically on the launch pad?

Actually an awful lot of the first ones failed on the pad. Like most things one learns by rial and error. That error just had a lot of cameras looking. 

And why did we know it was important?

LFC said...

Thanks. Will look at your link (later today). Have to be somewhere this a.m.

Peter T said...

Eisenhower thought a satellite might alarm the Soviets but was cool with U-2 flights?

The official Soviet line was that Laika (the dog) was put to sleep peacefully. Actually, she died from over-heating. I don't think the monkeys met better fates.

LFC said...

The official Soviet line was that Laika (the dog) was put to sleep peacefully. Actually, she died from over-heating.

Interesting, thanks.

LFC said...

Have read (belatedly) your post from Oct. '07 on the 50th anniv. of Sputnik.

I like the conclusion:

"Mom and Dad found when Sputnik would be overhead and dark enough to see. We went out in the back yard and watched until we saw it. A star moving too fast in the wrong direction."

"And to my seven year old self I knew it was important.
It was a school night and we actually got to stay

up past bed time."

I was alive in Oct. '57 but less than 6 months old, so I (presumably) didn't get to stay up past bedtime.

LFC said...

Completely off-topic, but I just had occasion to look up a book (Feller, The Jacksonian Promise) on Amazon, and one reviewer, remarking that he read the bk b/c it was assigned in a course, praises it b/c, among other things, "you can be half asleep and copy down some good notes."

One imagines a zonked freshmen, having had a beer or two, lying on a couch at 1 a.m. and thinking that he's studying b/c he's able, barely, to make out words on a page and copy them down.

The vaunted U.S. system of higher education in action.

Good night.

LFC said...

freshman not "freshmen"

speaking of barely being able to make out words...