November 1957: Sputnik 2

Just a few weeks after Russia put the world’s first satellite into orbit The Engineer marvelled at the launch of Sputnik 2: a much larger satellite. Sputnik 2 was also the first space craft to carry a living creature – Laika the dog (who died shortly after the launch).

sputnik 2
Stamp honouring Laika – the first cosmonaut

At the time of writing very few details had emerged concerning the latest launch and The Engineer was hungry for details. “How very much we should like to have particulars of the rocket used, and more, particularly about the propellants,” it wrote.

The publication viewed the launch as a sign that Russia had taken a decisive lead in the space race, and suggested that complacency coupled with the strangling effects of McCarthyism had left the US at a disadvantage. “There is a tendency in the U.S. to assume that provided sufficient money is poured into a project success must be achieved,” it reported, adding that a US obsession with preventing ideas from reaching the Russians had cut the US from contact with European scientific research.  “Americans must pardon us for thinking that neither in the development of the atomic bomb, nor of radar, nor of several other wartime inventions would progress have been made so rapidly had not European scientific inspiration been combined with American resourcefulness in solving production problems.”

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The article concludes by expressing what’s proven to be a naïve hope that Russia’s achievement wouldn’t spark a global arms race. “We congratulate the Russians on their very remarkable achievement,” it wrote, “whilst hoping that their further advances will be made towards the peaceful objective of exploring space rather than threatening the world with inter-continental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads.”