The Sputnik Challenge

The Sputnik Challenge

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On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a 184-pound metal ball called Sputnik into orbit around the Earth, and America plummeted into a panic. Nuclear weapon Designer Edward Teller claimed that the United States had lost "a battle more important and greater than Pearl Harbor, " and magazine articles appeared with such headlines as "Are We Americans Going Soft?" In the White House, President Eisenhower seemed to do nothing, leading Kennedy in 1960 to proclaim a "missile gap" in the Soviets' favor. Rarely has public perception been so dramatically at odds with reality. In The Sputnik Challenge, Robert Divine provides a fascinating look at Eisenhower's handling of the early space race - a story of public uproar, secret U-2 flights, bungled missile tests, the first spy satellite, political maneuvering, and scientific triumph. He recreates the national hysteria over the first two Sputnik launches, illustrating the anxious handwringing that the Democrats (led by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson) aggressively played for political gain. Divine takes us to private White House meetings, showing how Eisenhower worked closely with science adviser James Killian, allowing him to take the lead in creating a civilian agency - NASA - which provided intelligent and forceful leadership for American space programs. But the President also knew from priceless intelligence U-2 flights over the U.S.S.R. that he had little to fear from the touted missile gap, and he fought to limit the growth and multiplication of military missile programs. Eisenhower's assurance, however, rested on classified information, and he did little to instill his confidence in the public. Nor could he boast of his earlysupport for the secret spy satellite program (which quickly replaced the U-2 plane after Gary Powers was shot down in 1960). So the public continued to worry, feeding the national movement for educational reform as well as congressional maneuvering over funding for numerous strategicshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 154.94 x 236.22 x 27.94mm | 589.67g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • 0195050088
  • 9780195050080

About Robert A. Divine

About the Author: Robert A. Divine is a Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin, and is the author of Eisenhower and the Cold War and Blowing on the Wind.show more

Back cover copy

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a 184-pound metal ball called Sputnik into orbit around the Earth, and America plummeted into a panic. Nuclear weapon Designer Edward Teller claimed that the United States had lost "a battle more important and greater than Pearl Harbor", and magazine articles appeared with such headlines as "Are We Americans Going Soft?" In the White House, President Eisenhower seemed to do nothing, leading Kennedy in 1960 to proclaim a "missile gap" in the Soviets' favor. Rarely has public perception been so dramatically at odds with reality. In The Sputnik Challenge, Robert Divine provides a fascinating look at Eisenhower's handling of the early space race - a story of public uproar, secret U-2 flights, bungled missile tests, the first spy satellite, political maneuvering, and scientific triumph. He recreates the national hysteria over the first two Sputnik launches, illustrating the anxious handwringing that the Democrats (led by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson) aggressively played for political gain. Divine takes us to private White House meetings, showing how Eisenhower worked closely with science adviser James Killian, allowing him to take the lead in creating a civilian agency - NASA - which provided intelligent and forceful leadership for American space programs. But the President also knew from priceless intelligence U-2 flights over the U.S.S.R. that he had little to fear from the touted missile gap, and he fought to limit the growth and multiplication of military missile programs. Eisenhower's assurance, however, rested on classified information, and he did little to instill his confidence in the public. Nor could he boast of his earlysupport for the secret spy satellite program (which quickly replaced the U-2 plane after Gary Powers was shot down in 1960). So the public continued to worry, feeding the national movement for educational reform as well as congressional maneuvering over funding for numerous strategic projects. Eisenhower, Divine writes, possessed keen strategic vision and a sure sense of budgetary priorities, but ultimately he flunked a crucial test of leadership when he failed to reassure the frightened public that their fears were groundless. As a result, he also failed in his goal to limit military spending as well - which led to a real missile gap in reverse. Incisively written and deeply researched, The Sputnik Challenge provides a briskly-paced history of the origins of NASA, the space race, and the age of the ICBM.show more

Review quote

Divine provides a balanced analysis of Eisenhower's response to Sputnik...lucid and detailed study... * Intelligence and National Security Vol 9 no 4 * 'While one can be forgiven for sighing slightly at yet another book on Ike, it would be unfortunate if this fascinating study of an important aspect of his presidency passed unnoticed. Carefull researched, high readable ... a valuable addition to our growing appreciation of the Eisenhower presidency.' Giles Alston, University of Essex, International Affairs, (70:1), January 1994 'it would be unfortunate if this fascinating study of an important aspect of his presidency passed unnoticed ... Carefully researched, highly readable ... this is a valuable addition to our growing appreciation of the Eisenhower presidency.' Giles Alston, University of Essex, International Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 1, January 1994 'Robert Divine provides a fascinating look at the early space race, and in particular at Eisenhower's handling of the Sputnik calamity. He vividly recreates the national hysteria over the first two Sputnik launches.' John de la Mothe, University of Ottawa, Nature, Vol 366, 1993show more

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