The Space Race

Essay by Syphorix April 2004

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Few Americans considered the gathering on Friday, October 4th , 1957, at the Soviet Union's Embassy in Washington, DC, to be anything out of the ordinary. It was the appropriate climax of a week-long set of international scientific meetings. It was also, in the cynical Cold War world of international intrigue between the United States and the Soviet Union, an opportunity to gather national security intelligence and engage in petty games of one-upmanship between the rivals. This one would prove far different. The one-upmanship continued, but it was far from petty. To a remarkable degree, the Soviet announcement that evening changed the course of the Cold War. October 5th, 1957 Sputnik was launched. The Space Race had begun.

Dr. John P. Hagen arrived early at the party; he wanted to talk to a few Soviet scientists. Those he considered personal friends from long years of association in international scientific organizations, to learn their true feelings about efforts to launch an artificial satellite as part of the research effort known as the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Hagen, a senior scientist with the Naval Research Laboratory, headed the American effort to launch a satellite for the IGY, code named Project Vanguard. It was behind schedule and over budget.

Hagen had been through a stitch this last week. Beginning on Monday, September 30th , the international scientific organization known as CSAGI (Comité Speciale de l'Année Geophysique Internationale) had opened a 6-day conference, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, on rocket and satellite research for the IGY. Scientists from the United States, the Soviet Union, and five other nations met to discuss their individual plans and to develop protocols for sharing scientific data and findings. Hints from the Soviets at the meeting, however, threw the conference into a tizzy of speculation.