Recently Glenn Reynolds noted that the launch of Sputnik 50 years ago this week was more a surprisingly improvised case of the Right Stuff, Soviet style, then a carefully planned first step by the Russians to sieze the ultimate high ground in the Cold War. But it had huge–if surprisingly temporary ramifications, as Rand Simberg notes:
In the mid-1950s, many science fiction writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, were predicting that men would walk on the moon. But none of them were so bold in their predictions as to claim that it would happen in the coming decade. It made no sense–there was a logical progression to such things. In 1958, we could barely toss a few pounds into orbit, and in the first year of launch attempts, three out of four had failed. The notion that we would be sending people into space, in a couple years, let alone all the way to the moon within a few more, seemed like too far out a prediction even for a visionary writer of fiction.
But what would have seemed even more fantastic was the notion that, having landed men on the moon in the late sixties, the last one would trod on the regolith a few years later, and there would be no return for half a century. That was beyond science fiction, into the realm of dystopian fantasy.
As Rand notes, “Yet, in part because of the Sputnik panic, that’s exactly what happened.” Read the whole thing.
And for own look at NASA’s all-too-brief golden days, click here.