October 4, 1957 dawned as an average day for most Americans. The country that led the world in defeating the Axis Powers 12 years earlier at the end of World War II was enjoying unprecedented prosperity. Life was good.
- There were 47,200,000 television sets in the United States
- The “Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss was published
- The average cost of a new home was $12,220
- A first class stamp cost 3¢
- A gallon of regular gas was 24¢
- A loaf of white bread cost 19¢
- Tang was invented
- The Frisbee was named
- Gunsmoke was the most popular TV show in the country
- The number 1 song in the country was “Honeycomb” by Jimmie Rodgers
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
- Children’s shoes cost $5.95
- The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn (it was their last year in New York)
- Video games did not exist
Life was good…
History changed on October 4, 1957 with the launch of Sputnik. The world’s first artificial satellite was small by today’s standards (about the size of a basketball and weighed only 183 pounds) but its 98 minute elliptical orbit and its beeping signal back to earth ushered in the beginning of the Space Age.
The Sputnik launch changed everything. As a technical achievement, Sputnik caught the world’s attention and the American public off-guard. The supposedly backward Soviet Union had turned into reality what many thought was only possible in science fiction. For many in the United States, Sputnik was the face of fear itself. But for others, Sputnik was the avenue to new vistas. Space was finally accessible and all of mankind’s historic need to explore was now possible.
What began with Sputnik (“traveling companion” in Russian) 50 years ago has led to space accomplishments that have become part of our collective history and inspiration. Men have walked on the moon. Probes have explored every planet and have even left our solar system. The Hubble telescope has seen millions of years into the past. Life could even exist on Mars.
The past is the future. The past doesn’t simply influence who we are or what we hope to achieve. The past is us and is our future. It is for this reason that this year’s corps of 14 Young Astronauts named the 2007 Columbus Magnet School fifth grade mission, “Janus 50”. Janus is the two-headed Roman god known as the custodian of the universe. As the god of beginnings, Janus perfectly represents the beginning of spaceflight on October 4, 1957. But Janus is more. Depicted as looking both backward and forward simultaneously, Janus also symbolizes the future of spaceflight and man’s place in the universe, while recognizing the contributions from yesteryear.
This year’s mission not only honors our beginnings 50 years ago through Sputnik, but also our future by traveling to and updating the first permanent orbiting space station, the ISS. By installing new solar panels to the International Space Station, our astronauts will be deploying a technology that would have seemed mere fantasy to the space pioneers of 1957. And yet, it is safe to say, that those same pioneers would smile at such progress.
As Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Sputnik was the first baby step taken by people of giant dreams and aspirations. Janus 50 continues those dreams today. Life continues to be good…