Space Age is 50
The morning of October 4 Nikita Kruschev decided to purge General Zhukov, the hero of World War 2, for the imagined crime of plotting to seize power. That evening a telephone call from Chief Designer Sergei Korolev informed Kruschev of Sputnik's success. Despite his immense contributions, Korolev himself would suffer many unfortunate fates. He had already survived years in Stalin's gulags. Eventually Korolev would succumb on an operating table due to incompetent Soviet doctors. His identity as the Soviet Space program's "Chief Designer" remained a closely held secret.
The Nobel Prize Committee decided to reward the "Chief Designer," but did not even know his name. When requested, the Soviets balked at revealing Korolev's identity. Sputnik had been produced by many hands, and other designers thought themselves equally significant. The Soviets refused to identify Korolev, and the Nobel Prize went to someone else.
Engine designer Valentin Glushko considered himself Korolev's equal. "My engines could send into Space any piece of metal," he said at one meeting. After the success of Sputnik, Glushko and Korolev had a falling out and Glushko offered his services to rival Soviet rocket designers. History has repeated itself--the designer and the engine designer of Spaceship One no longer speak and are working on rival projects.
The aftermath of Sputnik led to a new awareness of science. Western governments pushed science education to keep ahead of the Russians. It is hard to believe that before Sputnik women were not allowed into MIT. As late as the 1960's some elite universities did not admit women. Many of today's successes, from Space engineers to internet millionaires, received their science education is Sputnik's aftermath. The desire to innovate drives many of us today.
Many people will comment on the effects of Sputnik. For those of us who were not alive, it is hard to imagine the shock. However, our whole lives have been lived in Sputnik's aftermath. The ways in which Space has changed our lives can not be overestimated.
More about Space in the new Carnival of space!