It does not matter what you believe about god, creationism, science, evolution, whatever. If you were raised in a society in which there is an evil enemy that you are convinced intends to arrive some day on your country’s shores, take over your government, impose a new social order, marry your sister, and so on, then when this evil foreign government sends the first warning shot in this war and it is an unprecedented and amazing feat of science, then suddenly you love science.
You pay taxes to fund science. Your idolize science. You start demanding that science comes to the rescue. One way to do this is to fund science, fund higher education, build up the universities.
The first Sputnik satellite was launched, and flew over the US multiple times, emitting a cryptic and disturbingly strange sounding radio signal, fifty years ago today.
The headline of this day fifty years ago in the Izvestia Daily:
We Were First
At 22:28 Moscow time on October 4, 1957, humanity entered a new space age. The Soviet Union sent the Earth’s first artificial satellite into orbit.
The Sputnik Effect. This is roughly compiled data from a limited number of sources. This shows buildings built per decade at a handful of American campuses. Note the spike in the 1960s, arguably a result of a national will and desire to significantly expand higher education and research, as well as demographic effects.
Sputnik, the little beeping Soviet satellite that flew around the earth with an orbit taking it over the United States, was the single most effective event in framing science to ever happen in this country. American universities underwent the most dramatic expansion of building, especially but not exclusively in the sciences, during the 1960s, when government funding for expanding higher education was much more readily available than any time before or since. Some of this expansion was certainly in response to demographic shifts, but much of it is widely thought to have been a direct or indirect result of the sudden realization that the U.S. was behind the Russians in the space-race.