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Smithsonian Institution scientists Dr. Josef A. Hynek, Fred L. Whipple and Don Lautman plotting orbit of Sputnik I.
Smithsonian Institution scientists Dr. Josef A. Hynek, Fred L. Whipple and Don Lautman plotting orbit of Sputnik I.Dmitri Kessel—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Smithsonian Institution scientists Dr. Josef A. Hynek, Fred L. Whipple and Don Lautman plotting orbit of Sputnik I.
From the Oct. 21, 1957 LIFE magazine cover story.
Globe built by Robert H. Farquhar to trace orbit of Sputnik I.
From the Oct. 21, 1957 LIFE magazine cover story.
Tracking satellite in mobile tracking van, scientists from California Institute of Technology measure its radio signal. Silhouetted at the right is a table set up on boxes to hold the men's supper.
Analyzing data picked up, scientists at Minitrack station near Washington let coffee get cold.
Huge camera, one of 12 built to track U.S. Vanguard, is assembled in California to track Sputnik.
Scientists working at the field lab of the National Bureau of Standards taking measurements of Sputnik I signals.
Scientists of the National Bureau of Standards Boulder Laboratory listening to signals from Sputnik I.
Scientists of the National Bureau of Standards Boulder Laboratory receiving signals from Sputnik I.
From the Oct. 21, 1957 LIFE magazine cover story.
Space fashions rushed onto market include skirts, jackets, hats, balloons with satellite motif.
A scene at Macy Dept. Store of the space toys on the shelves.
Macy Dept. Store clerks in space helmets
Young woman eating a Sputnik sundae.
Dr. Sig Hansen wears a 50-pound aluminum and steel space suit in 1957.
Smithsonian Institution scientists Dr. Josef A. Hynek, Fred L. Whipple and Don Lautman plotting orbit of Sputnik I.
Dmitri Kessel—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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'A Dazzling New Sight in the Heavens': Remembering Sputnik's First Days

When Sputnik 1 launched 60 years ago — on Oct. 4, 1957 — LIFE Magazine's audience had to get used to a new reality. In a very literal sense, there was a "dazzling new sight in the heavens," as the magazine put it, and a Soviet device passed overhead several times a day. And figuratively, things were different too. The world had entered a new age of space exploration and, much to the shock of many in the U.S., it did not begin with American glory.

In an Oct. 21 cover package about the satellite, LIFE looked at the situation from a variety of angles.

An essay from guided-missile expert C.C. Furnas took the U.S. to task for not being the first to launch a satellite, arguing that the feat would have been entirely feasible if the nation had simply buckled down. "All too frequently it has been the view of our defense establishment that research not directly related to the development of military hardware is entitled to only secondary consideration," he wrote. "It has been regarded as a sort of extracurricular scientific pastime to be indulged in only if money is left over from the 'really important' things." Such an outlook was shortsighted, he explained, especially since many of the century's most significant military advances had been the accidental result of scientific discovery, not the other way around.

Meanwhile, in the political world, President Eisenhower attempted to reassure Americans by promising that a U.S. satellite would launch, and that it would be even better than Sputnik. And culturally, though afraid of what the news could mean for the Cold War, many Americans showed their Sputnik spunk by embracing satellite-inspired cocktails, toys and clothing, all while looking ahead to the next step in the space race.

It was this can-do attitude, more than anything, that the magazine attempted to summon in an editorial on the subject.

"Sputnik should remind us of what we ourselves have proved many times from Lexington to the Manhattan Project: that any great human accomplishment demands a consecration of will and a concentration of effort," the magazine proclaimed. "This is as true of the liberation of men and nations as it is of the conquest of space."

Oct. 21, 1957 cover of LIFE magazine featuring Smithsonian Observatory scientists working at M.I.T. in Cambridge to try to calculate Sputnik's orbit.Oct. 21, 1957 cover of LIFE magazine featuring Smithsonian Observatory scientists working at M.I.T. in Cambridge to try to calculate Sputnik's orbit. Dmitri Kessel—LIFE Magazine 
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