8. Speaking of General Medaris, in the final chapter of your book, “Sputnik’s Legacy,” you quote him: “If I could get ahold of that thing, I would kiss it on both cheeks.” What did he mean?
Sputnik galvanized America. We put billions of dollars into education. We began producing 1,500 PhDs a week. Teachers were going to special summer institutes, Middlebury to study language, MIT to study technology. It brought the middle classes back into education, which was drifting toward elitism. It showed us at our best.
We get Dr. Spock, Dr. Seuss. Rote learning starts to be abandoned. Dick and Jane are skewered on a plate. There’s less Latin and Greek, more Spanish and Russian.
Betty Friedan is working on a book about Smith College, and she said Sputnik got her thinking. Stephen King is in a theater, watching a movie called “Earth vs. the Flying Saucer,” about Martians coming down to Malibu and taking women back to Mars. They stopped the movie in the middle to announce Sputnik. That was the beginning of his dread. The world had been reality versus fantasy, and now the two had come together.
Sputnik changed a lot of people.
9. What you’re saying flies in the face of the people who say that too much money has been spent on the space program, that in more recent times it could have been used for other things...
It got us all the things we now rely on, laptop computers, cellphones. Countries that don’t have the copper to string phonelines? Cellphones. The space race has given the world a whole boost at every level. The space guys were the first guys to learn to do biometric readings of people’s bodies. There was a large technology transfer.
At its highpoint, it was four percent of our economy, now it’s only seven-tenths of one percent. And there’s an $8 billion positive balance of payments in the aerospace industry, meaning you take all the money coming into this country—other countries paying Boeing to build their planes, hiring American pilots, for instance—and it’s more than other segments of industry.
Sputnik resulted in the creation of DARPA, the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency. That was hundreds of millions of dollars into a think tank that was supposed to come up with those things that would prevent us from being surprised. There were these huge computers bulk processing, at MIT, at Cal Tech. And these huge computers could talk to each other.
When the government was finished with the ARPA net, they said, Let’s give it to the world. Think what would have happened if they had decided to auction it off. So it’s because of Sputnik that we’ve got the internet.
10. We were talking earlier in the conversation about how because of Sputnik we had more scientists, more engineers, better education. Somehow it feels as if today we’ve gone back to pre-Sputnik days. Now you hear about how we need more scientists, more engineers, better education because that sector of our society all seems to be going overseas...
Well, that’s the argument everybody’s making, we may need another Sputnik moment, something to galvanize us and get us going again. Katrina could have been that moment, but it wasn’t. I thought that bridge collapse in Minneapolis might have been it, that we might have recognized we’re letting the country deteriorate while we sit in corners with our ipods.
The above are three of the 10 questions and answers published by CBS News after interviewing Paul Dickson, who wrote Sputnik: The Shock of the Century. Published in 2001, it’s just been re-released; he’s also the co-writer on a new documentary, Sputnik Mania.
Visit CBS and read the rest. I am very sure we need another sputnik. I don't want to be another beatnik.