If there was any doubt, it became apparent on October 4, 1957, that Russia had one-upped the United States in what would become known as the “Space Race.” The launching of Sputnik (Russian for “Traveler”) the world’s first artificial satellite and the first man-made object to be placed into the Earth’s orbit sent that message reverberating around the world with morale shattering impact.
In the era of the Cold War, technological supremacy was the name of the game and the Space Race was the epitome of technology. According to the historical archives on the website of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the launches of Sputnik 1 and 2 by the Soviet Union in October and November 1957, respectively, was interpreted as Soviet superiority in missile technology.
The U.S. Senate began hearings on the perceived “missile gap” between the two superpowers. In the midst of those hearings, on December 6, 1957, the United States showcased a widely publicized attempt to place its first satellite into space. Embarrassingly, in full view of the world press, the US Vanguard TV-3 rocket launch at Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida was a catastrophic failure. Two seconds and four feet into the air, the rocket lost thrust and fell back to the launch pad causing the fuel tanks to rupture and severely damaging the launch pad.
The failure was humiliating to the U.S. which had held itself out as the world leader in science and technology. The Russians had a field day. In fact the Russian ambassador to the United Nations inquired whether the United States was interested in applying for aid that was reserved for “undeveloped countries.”
Emotions ran wild. The turn of events had galvanized the United States and fortunately, a few weeks later, on January 31, 1958, the U.S. successfully launched Explorer I, its first orbiting satellite and thereby placed our country back on even technological par with the Russians.
When it came to national pride, there was a strong degree of unity across party lines. In fact, when President John F. Kennedy made his announcement that “We choose to go to the Moon” on September 12, 1962, at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, there was not organized opposition to the effort. There were naysayers but even their remarks were made in anonymity and based on conservative fiscal policy. One isolated recorded statement was that “Kennedy’s budget deficit will reach the moon before we do.”
Nonetheless, the space race and the realization of the goal to place an American on the moon in that decade was unifying.
This month, July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the success of the Apollo 11 mission and Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In the 1960’s the goal of a manned spacecraft reaching the moon was established during the administration of a Democratic president and realized during the administration of a Republican president. Fortunately, in that era, programs were not cancelled based on partisan rhetoric and Apollo 11 is not the only example. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Rural Electrification, Conservation and even the Kerr-McClelland Navigation System did not come about through unanimity but those programs addressed needs that have returned dividends to the American people many times over.
Most importantly, they were not intentionally attacked and undermined when a member of the opposing party occupied the White House.
Over the interceding 50 years, much has changed. Truly galvanizing moments in American history have been few and far between. Americans have needs that must be addressed but partisan rhetoric seems to always get in the way. The cost of a college education and ensuing student debt; the cost of health care, the cost of prescription medication are but a few of America’s current embarrassments and states like Oklahoma whose legislature sticks its head in the sand are literally the proverbial canary in the coal mine signaling a breakdown in society.
There are solutions but they involve courageous lawmakers who will do the right thing.
What we cannot afford is divisive rhetoric that does not come with solutions. We are better than that.
Questions or comments, please call or write 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.