If you are a devotee of time travel...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sputnik's 50th Anniversary: Sad That We Have Not Gone Further in Space

Sputnik celebrates its 50th anniversary on October 4 - the first artificial satellite to circle the planet. It was soon followed by Sputnik 2 (dogs in space, 1958), first human in space (Yuri Gagarin, 1961), Telstar (first telecom satellite, 1962), and then we walked on the Moon (Armstrong and Aldrin, 1969).

Notice that I didn't say Soviet or US above, because it doesn't really matter. Humans in space is what counts. But everyone of course knows that Sputnik - Russian for "fellow traveler" - set off the space race which we in the US eventually "won" in 1969. Prior to then, Telstar was our only first accomplishment.

And what did that victory get us? A space shuttle, with brave astronauts, some of whom lost their lives. But no one has gotten too far beyond this planet. We've sent robots to Mars, and that's exciting, but robots neither laugh nor cry - they're not human.

And so, as the 50th anniversary of Sputnik approaches, I can only hope that we start doing a little better. Civilization is filled with examples of major inventions that stayed dormant for centuries - even millennia. The Chinese invention of the printing press in 700 or 800 AD, and its failure to be used for a mass print and popular culture, is one of the most vivid examples. (I wrote about this way back in 1977, in my essay, "Toy, Mirror, and Art: The Metamorphosis of Technological Culture" - it was reprinted in my 1995 Learning Cyberspace - and I'll try to post the essay here in the next few weeks.)

Let's not wait 700 more years to really get out into space. The Universe awaits us...

See also Realspace: The Fate of Physical Presence in the Digital Age, On and Off Planet

20-minute podcast: Celebrating Sputnik


Anonymous said...


Please remember that what Sputnik also gave us is the beginnings of the incredible satellite communications infrastructure that we now enjoy.

Sure, it did usher in the human space exploration era, however the more important fact is that the world can now communicate with otself in its most efficient way of all time.

I am afraid we are beginning (if not already there) to take satellites for granted since all the websites and TV reports I have (so far) seen say nothing of how Sputni ushered in our satellite TV, GPS, weather forecasting technology and countless other wonders all thanks to satellites (and Sputnik especially).

Instead of attending a boring lecture or watching another repetitive documentary, I have been celebrating 50 years of Sputnik by conducting a campaign to single-handedly detect and track 1,957 satellites in 2007. To date, I have successfully detected 1,650 of our orbiting friends (about 1/5 of the current total population) and fully expect to reach my goal by December 31.

My website has logged all the satellites I have detected with my two telescopes and CCD camera. I consider this number a world record unless another astronomer has single-handedly detected more.


Thank You.

Capcom said...

It certainly is a crying shame that we (and our space companions - you're right, it doesn't matter which country made the milestones at this point) have not gotten farther in our space program than we have. If Von Braun could wake up from the dead for one day, he would not believe how we have mangaged to blow the momentum of our space goals that he started for us. I blame (rightly or not) Nixon for cancelling the remainder of the Apollo flights supposedly just because it was "Kennedy's baby", and Congress for not having the wisdom and foresight to ever fund NASA the way it should be funded - enough to build our spacecraft as efficiently and safely as the engineers designed them to be. It's true what Tom Wolfe maybe coined, "no bucks, no Buck Rogers". And if the government wanted to badly enough, it could get the people interested in many ways via good PR (which NASA doesn't seem to have too much of these days).

Yes Anonymous, it's funny (not) how the people whose lives depend now on their satTV, GPS, cellphones, etc., are many of the ones who don't want NASA supported because they don't know that it's the space program that places those satellites in orbit for their viewing and talking pleasure.

Heh, I am just a little passionate about this subject, being a boomer who grew up being told that our future was in space and then we didn't get it. :o) And congrats Anon for all your sightings!

Paul Levinson said...

anon - excellent web site - thanks for posting it ... (I did remember, by the way, that Sputnik ushering in telecom satellites - that's why I mentioned Telnet ...:)

capcom - I agree with you completely about Nixon. He hated the space program, because it shouted "Kennedy" to him... I go into this in some detail in Realspace...