The Cold War & Sputnik
Mobilizing Minds: Teaching Math and Science in the Age of Sputnik
The Cold War and Sputnik
In the years after World War II, an intense rivalry developed between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both countries had atomic and then thermonuclear weapons, and aircraft that could deliver these bombs to distant targets. Some American families purchased or built underground shelters to protect them in case of Soviet attack.
This same era also brought unprecedented international cooperation in the sciences. The time from July 1957 through December 1958, a period of high solar activity, was designated the International Geophysical Year. During these months, scientists from throughout the world carried out new observations of the earth and its atmosphere. As part of this program, the United States planned to launch the Vanguard satellite in 1958. Well before this happened, the Soviet Union sent up Sputnik.
Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer, 1962
Replica of Sputnik, 1960s
Family Fallout Shelter, 1955
Drawing of Expected American Earth Satellite, 1957
Engineers in both nations relished the prospect of launching rockets into orbit. Scientists could use signals from Sputnik and other satellites to develop new methods of computing orbits. And instruments flown on early satellites helped trace the shape of the earth, measured very small meteorites, and detected cosmic rays. Such observations also revealed regions of intense radiation in the earth’s upper atmosphere.