October 4, 1957
You may not remember the date but the event is something you can’t forget if you were alive in the 50’s. Sputnik marked the beginning of the Space Age but even more it demonstrated that the future did not belong to the United States alone. The Soviet Union was challenging our leadership and in the realm of public opinion, the USSR was winning.
Sputnik was cute. It made nice science fiction noises. In truth, however, sputnik didn’t do anything. This, of course, didn’t matter. The Soviets had got it int orbit while the US satellite was still on earth. Then the Soviets followed up with Sputnik II carrying the first dog in space.
Sputnik was a downer for the US
Because the Soviets were our enemies, this was a big emotional blow which caused us to question just about everything. In fact, the launch of Sputnik was meaningless in the long run. US space accomplishments were in many ways more advanced than the Soviets but the psychological impact of being second was hard for us to take.
The two videos here can help understand the US view at the time, This one is from news coverage following the launch.
And this is a review about the significance of Sputnik fifty years later.