The launching of the first two Sputniks was a terrible blow to America’s self-image of technical preeminence that had developed in the years following World War II . With the onset of the Cold War, America also developed a keen sense of paranoia about Communism in general and the secretive Soviet Union in particular. The Sputnik launches, and their military implications, just fed this paranoia (see “Sputnik: The Launch of the Space Age” and “Sputnik 2: The First Animal in Orbit”). Set against this backdrop was the infamous failure of the first Vanguard satellite launch attempt on December 6, 1957. Unfortunately this flight was touted by some as America’s response to the Sputniks. Being at the focus of world attention for what was initially suppose to be a simple test flight was the last thing the Vanguard program participants wanted. This public relations disaster marked America’s low point in what was quickly developing into a Space Race with its global rival.
A technician is shown working on the 84-kilogram Sputnik satellite prior to its launch on October 4, 1957.
Vanguard is Born
The Vanguard program had its roots in the mid-1940’s in a collection of U.S. Naval Research ...