Google tells me today that this is the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. Fifty years ago Russia launched this tiny satellite into the sky, and millions of Americans gazed into the night heavens hoping for a glimpse. I can remember well standing out on the front lawn with my Dad, looking and looking until we finally spotted it. What an amazing thing it was! This man-made object floating around in earth's orbit. We looked at it many nights, and as a 9-year-old I remember it as an exciting, happy thing. Now I wonder what my parents were really thinking.
The fact that Russia was the first in space was definitely not an occasion for celebration during the years of the Cold War between our two countries. Rather, it was something to be feared, for it opened the door for attack from space. What an idea! I had no inkling of the tensions created by this little satellite...not something we discussed around the dinner table.
But, as a young student of the American school system, I was very aware of the dangers of the Cold War. It was in grade school that we learned to "duck and cover" and for goodness sake, don't look at the light during an atomic blast! We also had a drill that involved our getting to a "safe house" within 10 minutes of the school. My grandparents lived within that range, so on drill day, we would race out the back door of the school, across the sports field, and then the three blocks to their house. These same grandparents would move in 1962 from the city out to our neighborhood in the country, and would build a new home that included a built-in "fall-out" shelter room. We were very much aware that this other country wanted to blow us off the map. I don't remember now if I ever had nightmares about it, but it was very much a part of our lives.
Still, I don't recall Sputnik ever being anything other than a really cool thing....and an opportunity to share some fun time with my Dad.