After looking at our local newspapers the day before the space race started in October 1957, it seemed only logical to see how they covered the launch of Sputnik in the days that followed.
First, a quick look at what happened with the big stories from the day before Sputnik was launched.
The troubles at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas seem to have subsided as noted by headlines in both the News and Times. Under the headline “Little Rock School Quiet,” the News reported, “The white student body of Central High School today quietly admitted nine Negroes into their midst for a 10th day of integrated education.”
The union disputes also seemed to have quieted down with both papers reporting that the Teamsters Union had named Jimmy Hoffa president.
But the story that took most of the front page in both papers was the Russian launch of Sputnik.
The Kingsport News had a bold, all-caps headline “REDS CLAIM VICTORY IN SATELLITE RACE” with smaller headlines reading “ ‘Moon’ Hung In Space” and “Satellite Now Circling In Orbit.”
The story, which carried a London dateline instead of Washington, read, “The Russians announced they hung an artificial moon 560 miles out into space yesterday and it is streaking around the earth at enormous speed today.
“They said it can be seen in its orbit with glasses and followed by radio through instruments it carries.
“In thus announcing the launching of the first earth satellite ever put in globe-girdling orbit under man’s controls, the Soviet Union claimed a victory over the United States.”
The rest of the story went on to detail the satellite’s orbit, but several paragraphs were dedicated to how amateur radio operators could pick up the radio transmissions from Sputnik. Seems the Russians wanted to make sure everyone knew what they had achieved.
Another story on the page with the headline “Congratulations Go to Russians” noted that congratulations were extended by Dr. Lloyd Berkner, an American official of the International Geophysical Year (IGY). He learned the news while attending a cocktail party at the Russian Embassy given for those attending a special conference of the IGY.
The Associated Press photo that ran on the News’ front page showed Dr. John P. Hagen, director of Project Vanguard, holding a model of the tiny test satellite the U.S. planned to launch in November.
The Kingsport Times had its story lower on the page due to the coverage of a drowning in Fort Patrick Henry Lake. The headline read, “U.S. Hopes To Share Knowledge” with two stories underneath.
One story, “Russians Elated Over Being First” with a Moscow date line, read in part, “As Russia’s earth satellite whirled toward its 40th circuit of the globe today, Pravda predicted the Soviet scientific success will force the United States to revamp some of its foreign policies.
“Already, the Soviet Communist party newspaper said some U.S. senators ‘are showing signs of hysteria.’
“In a dispatch from New York, Pravda said the success of the satellite puts before U.S. leaders ‘the inexorable necessity of peaceful coexistence, cessation of the arms race and renunciation of their cold war policy.’ ”
The article went on to say newspapers in the United States were recognizing that “in numerous spheres of scientific research the Soviet Union is often equal and sometimes superior to the United States.”
The other story, “Navy Reports Tracking Moon” with a Washington dateline, said that U.S. naval scientists had a good fix of the Russian space satellite and can plot its path ahead anywhere from 24 hours to a week.
A third story down on the page with the headline “Russian Moon Creates New Trail Of Confusion With 3 Questions” and a New York dateline asked what was the satellite doing? What was it transmitting in code? And would the Russians share any information?
The Times article featured an Associated Press photo of a model of a satellite displayed by the Russians in Czechoslovakia.
In the next few days, headlines reflected how the government was scrambling to reassure the people that the Russians weren’t really ahead of us in science and technology. The Times had headlines like “Ike Gets Briefing On Satellite Plans,” “NACA Displays New Type of Fuel” and “Reports Raise Hopes of U.S. Launched Moon.”
NACA, or the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics, was the forerunner of NASA.
In the middle of all these headlines was one that announced “Red Newspaper Hints Of Second Satellite.” No one in the United States knew it at the time, but it would be Laika the dog. She would be the first living creature to orbit the Earth.
Among all of these stories was one tiny story on page 20 of the Oct. 10 edition of the Times. It showed how people in other countries were also affected by Sputnik.
It seems that radio station CKOV in British Columbia, Canada, followed its reports of Sputnik by playing a 1938 recording of Orson Welles “War of the Worlds,” which tells the story of an invasion of Earth by Mars. The station had 60 phone calls in the first few minutes of the program from anxious listeners who thought Sputnik had landed hostile Russians in North America.
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