Today’s the 50th anniversary of an event that might be thought of as an extreme way of nationally getting really serious about Science education. Sputnik was launched by the USSR. The little pioneering satellite passed overhead several times a day, sending a powerful beeping signal over a radio channel. America immediately became scared, worried and paranoid and essentially declared it a national emergency to respond by a focus on better education in some science and technical subjects. Songs were written. The entire culture was changed.
Fear and paranoia are certainly not the ways I’d like to see us come back to recognizing the value and urgency of improved science education (not the least because it produces an uneven focus, and forgets that you’re supposed to be doing it for the sheer joy of it), but it is certainly interesting to reflect upon what can get done when a nation puts its mind to it.
Here’s a lovely NPR story by Larry Abramson (with audio and transcript) about the educational impact of Sputnik. NPR did a lot of stories on the anniversary over the last week or so. I recommend them all (from impact on politics to impact on popular culture).
Here are some links to enjoy, with story transcripts and audio:
- Sputnik’s Designers Didn’t Fathom Its Impact
- Sputnik in Space and Song
- Space Race Permeated Pop Culture
- Sputnik Left Legacy for U.S. Science Education
- Remembering Sputnik
[Update: A page with them all is here: Sputnik at 50: Looking Back at the Space Race.]