"I was walking along
Minding my business
When right out of an orange colored sky

FLASH!

BAM!

ALAKAZAM!

Wonderful you came by."

--- Nat King Cole, "Orange Colored Sky" ---

Before

On October 3, 1957, the world was preoccupied with the tense racial situation at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Milwaukee Braves beat the New York Yankees 4-2 in the second game of the World Series, with the pitching of Lew Burdette and the powerful bat of former Negro League player Hank Aaron. The first episode of "Leave it to Beaver" was about to be aired on the Columbia Broadcasting Service.

None of those things were in the news the next day.

Because late on October 4, 1957, an object weighing about 184 pounds and approximately twice the size of a basketball, was launched by Soviet scientists to a height of 900 kilometers. Called Sputnik, it was meant to orbit the Earth once every hundred minutes or so.

It did not last as long as anticipated. But before Sputnik's signal stopped, it broke the record for the highest launch ever, and so it was announced at the New York meeting of the International Geophysical Year.

At 6:30 P.M., President Eisenhower was informed of Sputnik's existence at his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He had left Washington that morning after discussing the federalization of the Arkansas National Guard and the mobilization of the 101st Airborne to Little Rock. The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus had publically stated his staunch opposition to the integration of Central High School, despite repeated Supreme Court rulings, and Eisenhower saw it as a Constitutional issue of great import. Sputnik was not on his mind.

Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson heard the news at his ranch in Texas, hosting a barbeque for several guests. Afterwards, they all went for a walk together, the normally festive mood quieted somewhat. "In the open west," he would later recollect. "you learn to live with the sky. It is a part of your life. But now, somehow, in some new way, the sky seemed almost alien."

Senator John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, counsel to the Senate's racketeering investigation committee learned of Sputnik at the men's-only bar at Boston's Loch Ober Cafe, from Charles Stark "Doc" Draper, a MIT professor and another habitue of the cafe. They played devil's advocate to Draper's insistence that space exploration would prove to be of key importance to the future.

Doris Kearns Goodwin was a sophomore in high school. She and her boyfriend took a blanket to a nearby park to lay out on the cool grass and look for Sputnik. But then he leaned over and kissed her, and she didn't look for the satellite anymore.

Nikita Kruschev and his son Sergei heard about the launch when they returned from a vacation near the Black Sea. He freely admitted to aides that he didn't understand the importance of Sputnik at first.

Of course, nobody did.


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