The Space Age Arrives: IntroductionSputnik may not be a household word in America today, but it is a defining moment in the history of humanity.Before Sputnik, no object made by man ventured beyond the outer atmosphere of Earth, something we now take for granted.With the launch of Sputnik, we entered the Space-Age and took our first infantile step to go beyond our home planet. If in 500 years, if humanity is engaged in living on other planets, Sputnik will be seen as the moment that started their voyage.Space Age Arrives: International Geophysical YearWhat is the International Geophysical Year? Better known as the IGY, the International Geophysical Year was a period of unprecedented international scientific cooperation. The IGY "year" was from 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958. At the time, the IGY was termed "the single most significant peaceful activity of mankind since the Renaissance and the Copernican Revolution".What would the IGY accomplish? While Sputnik is the best known product of the IGY, the launching of an artificial satellite was not the only goal of the program. Great attention was paid to oceanography, seismology, solar activity (1958 was forecast to be a period of excessive sunspot activity), and the exploration of Antarctica. Over 60,000 scientists from 67 nations would participate.The US contribution? On 29 July 1955, the Eisenhower Administration announced the US would orbit an earthsatellite during the IGY.What of a Space Race? Well, if Eisenhower announces in 1955 that the US would orbit a satellite it is hardly a secret. And if the US wanted a propaganda coup to one up the Soviets, would they not have kept this quiet for maximum value upon launch? And if we were in a race why tip our hand and why wait until the IGY to launch?Accomplishments of the IGYWorld's first artificial satellite - Sputnik.Discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belts - Explorer I.Charting ocean currents and unprecedented depths.A study of the Earth's magnetic field that led directly to the plate tectonics theory.Upper atmospheric wind studies.
The first international study of the Antarctic continent. These Antarctic activities led to the Antarctic Treaty, declaring the Antarctic a haven for international scientific research without the possibility of individual national colonization.Vanguard: BackgroundBefore we launch Sputnik, we need to return to the US side of the story. President Dwight Eisenhower announced that the United States would orbit a scientific package--Project Vanguard--during the IGY with an anticipated launch date in March 1958.Could the US have launched a satellite before the IGY? Probably so. But it would have required using an existing US military missile as the booster. The Eisenhower Administration was adamant that we not use a military booster. Why do you ask? The IGY was a scientific-civilian endeavor. And the US would conduct its contribution to the IGY as such, a civilian effort. In addition, if you launch a satellite for the IGY you not only share the satellite but you possibly compromise military booster technology.