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Sputnik: The Satellite That Inspired Generations
In 1950, a group of American and European scientists decided to establish a worldwide program to promote research and understanding of the world around them. They decided that July 1957 to December 1958 would be called the International Geophysical Year, or IGY. They hoped that drawing attention to geophysical matters would stimulate new projects and inventions, and increase the knowledge the world had of the planet, its atmosphere, and the things that lay beyond. This focus galvanized many countries to produce new innovations in science and technology.
At the same time, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were involved in the Cold War. They were competing against one another, constantly trying to show that their country (and therefore their form of government and ideals) was the better choice. They were competing for influence over the rest of the world. Eventually the USSR and Communism lost, but far more important results came out of this competition instead.
Development of Sputnik
The idea that a satellite could be put into orbit around the Earth was introduced to the scientific community in 1903. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky showed that this could be done, but his work was all mathematical. In 1948, another Russian named Mikhail Tikhonravov talked to the famed scientist Sergei Korolev about turning this theory into an actual working device. Tikhonravov presented his ideas to the Academy of Artillery Sciences, but they refused to support the project. The Academy president Anatoli Blagonravov, however, could not get the idea that the project would have huge value out of his head. Eventually he brought the project back in front of the Academy, and helped Tikhonravov's ideas gain acceptance (Harford). Thus the satellite project began.
American satellite projects at this time never really got off the ground (no pun intended). The US Army Air Corps requested satellite project proposals as early as 1946, but after the contract was awarded to Douglas Aircraft, one report was produced and the satellite projects stalled (Harford). Satellite projects were considered a waste of time and ridiculous, much as they were in the USSR. It was only because one official in Russia kept promoting the idea that they were able to continue with the projects while the Americans abandoned them.
Russian rocket development programs after that time focused largely on missiles, not satellite launch devices. It wasn't until 1953, when the R-7 rocket was finished, that they began to review the satellite idea. The R-7 rocket was designed to launch Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs, at the United States. The US had bombers stationed at NATO bases all around Russian borders in case they were needed, but Russia had no similar allies within range of the US. They also had no planes that could fly from Russia to the US to drop nuclear bombs....