As I was driving home from B's house last Thursday night, I heard a re-broadcast of The Conversation in which Steven J. Dick, a NASA historian, was being interviewed about the history and attitudes 50 years ago when Sputnik launched. It was interesting to hear about the fear that many Americans felt because of the cold war, and to get the perspective of people who were excited about it from an evolution of science perspective. But my favorite was a caller named Elaine who said that she and her husband were camping at Mt. Rainier a month after the launch and they saw Sputnik travelling across the sky at night. She said they were amazed that, "something from our planet was up there in the sky so far away, like a star in the night." She also said that they didn't see it as a threat, but instead, "as a huge expansion for mankind, to have a whole other aspect of life, and life beyond our own boundaries."
I thought she expressed the emotion beautifully - to me that's what space exploration is about - it's a way to reach beyond ourselves, a way to connect with all people on Earth in a quest to put a part of ourselves out among the stars. Maybe I spent a little too much of my childhood watching Star Trek, but to me the thought of space is uplifting, and both I and the host (he actually said "well done Elaine") thought she captured that feeling, and I got home feeling like a better person for it.
So happy 50th birthday, Sputnik, and thanks Elaine.