The Legacy of Sputnik

Monday, October 15, 2007


GARRICK UTLEY:  Ladies and gentlemen, we want to, first of all, invite you to continue your desserts -- enjoying the drink and the food -- and only interrupt your conversation so that we can have a larger conversation here for the next 59 minutes and 30 seconds, according to the old clock on the wall. 

I welcome you to the Council on this occasion in which we're talking about the legacy of Sputnik.  I'm Garrick Utley, your moderator.  And you know the panel.  We have Matthew Brzezinski here to the right.  And if you don't know Matthew, you know his book because you just walked by a table full of his books a moment ago -- and they will still be there on the way out -- about Sputnik and the "Red Moon Rising:  Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Race."

And Roger Launius joins us too today.  Roger is a historian.  He was at NASA as NASA's historian for several years and now is at the Smithsonian.  And before we came in he told me that his Ph.D. work in history was the American West.  So if you say that's a new frontier at the time, he went to another new frontier -- to borrow a phrase from an administration.  But it's wonderful to see you here today and also to welcome Ted Sorenson, who I'm sure will have certain observations or will correct us once we're done with the formal part of the discussion today.

As usual, we will have a conversation here and then open the discussion to the floor.  This is on the record at the Council, so you can run out and tell everybody about it.  Please silence your pagers, cell phones, et cetera.  And I think we're going to have a very stimulating time.

Let me just give you a bit of a background.  I think you know the bios, but Matt Brzezinski is a journalist.  Wall Street Journal based in --


UTLEY:  -- Moscow, and now an author of -- a serial author of books.  And Roger, I said, is a historian. 

So let me -- and also looking at the group of us today, I know there are two parts to what we're discussing.  This is the Sputnik legacy or the legacy of Sputnik.  Those in the room who remember that event and that day and what followed it, it was a seminal moment.  It penetrated our emotions, our minds, our lives.  Those who are younger, including our experts here, it is perhaps a vaguer memory, if one at all.

So there are really two parts.  One is what happened then, what did it mean for this nation; what did it mean for the world?  And also, we want to take some time to come up to today -- what are the lessons that can be drawn as we're in a different kind of technological rivalry, if you will, in the age of globalization?

We're going to have brief opening comments from the two, but let me just point out the amateur historian in me.  We're talking about October 4, 1957.  And there were two events on that day which profoundly shaped American society and culture.  One was the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the other was that night on prime time network television was the premiere of "Leave It to Beaver."  (Laughter.) 

Now, "Leave It to Beaver," for those of you who remember the series, sort of symbolized what had been known as the complacent 1950s and grew to be this American institution.  And maybe the shock of Sputnik and so-called idealized concept of American society of "Leave It to Beaver" -- there's a doctoral dissertation to be done there.  But let's forget Beaver and go back to Sputnik -- but keep Beaver in the back of your mind.

As we look -- Matt, we'll start with you.  You're the journalist.  From a journalist's or reporter's digging into this story, what was the headline, what was the legacy, what was the true impact, because you -- unlike many people in this room -- did not live through it with the same intensity?

BRZEZINSKI:  When talking about it, particularly to younger audiences, the way I try to put it in context is I tell them it was the 9/11 of the 1950s psychologically and politically.  And why was it the 9/11?  Because, of course, the significance of Sputnik was not this little aluminum orb that was going around the Earth.  It was the rocket that it went up on, because that rocket was the world's first ICBM.  And what that meant was that the first time in America's history, the mainland was vulnerable to foreign attack. 

And it's actually -- I'm doubly pleased to have been invited here because -- well, for one, for a young author it's an honor to come to a place like this to meet historical figures.  And secondly, in fact, the Council on Foreign Relations is indirectly responsible for Sputnik.  And many of you here may not know this link -- that it was at the Council on Foreign Relations that John Foster Dulles, the very hard line new secretary of State in early 1953, outlined America's new military policy.  And it was called "Massive Retaliation."  And massive retaliation is in fact, as I'll explain in a second, one of the things that prompted the Soviets to rush headlong into rocketry and give us Sputnik.

Basically, as many of you recall, in the early 1950s there was a tremendous fear that Communism seemed to be on the rise spreading everywhere.  We had China, Eastern Europe falling, Korea.  And the Eisenhower had come into office basically on a platform saying Truman had been weak on defense and we are going to keep you safe from the Red Menace.  And the thinking was they don't want to get bogged down in small wars like Korea.  There was trouble brewing in Indochina, they didn't want to get stuck there either, so they were going to prepare for what they called total war. 

Total war essentially involved massive nuclear holocaust.  And this was -- the thinking that the only way to keep Moscow from continuing its sort of aggressive and expansive foreign policies is to scare the living daylights out of them.  And how do we do this?  We did this by using our overwhelming air superiority.  At that time we had an astonishing advantage in terms of the airplanes and the long-range bombers that we had.  We also had the Soviet Union surrounded with airbases.  And our planes could strike Soviet territory any time, but their planes would run out of gas, essentially, over -- somewhere over the Atlantic. 

And to drive this point home, we unleashed a name that's very familiar to many of you:  Madman LeMay -- General Curtis LeMay, the head of SAC -- who the Soviets were actually convinced was crazy.  His brief and job seems to be to put the fear of God into the Kremlin.  And he would do this by launching operations with names like "Powerhouse" and "Homerun" where he'd scramble all of our long-range bombers, send them careening over the Atlantic and sort of turn them all around at the last second.  But you can just imagine the alarm bells going off in Moscow.  I mean, sometimes he wouldn't even stop them.  We would send entire squadrons of B-47 Stratojets deep into Soviet territory.  And we would have, on a daily basis, planes taking off and skirting the border or going in and out.  They were so-called ferret missions.  All in all, we violated Soviet airspace 10,000 times. 

And this -- of course, we did this, you know, this was a very well intentioned policy and effective at the time, because it made sure that they behaved themselves.  But perhaps it was maybe a little bit too effective, because the Soviets actually became convinced that we were planning for war.  And this is something that we didn't know, even though a report in 1955 by the CIA said -- they speculated that maybe the Soviets are becoming increasingly convinced, and especially with some of our recent actions, that we might intend to launch a preemptive war.

So this is why the Soviet Union, beginning in the early 1950s, went on a crash program to build the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile, because they knew they could not keep up with us with the production of long-range aircraft.  And effectively -- the most cost effective method as a deterrent to keep America at bay was to build an ICBM.  And what was Sputnik?  Sputnik was nothing but the public unveiling of that ICBM.  When they finished the testing and they found that the rocket actually worked, there was one problem that they had with the R-7, which was the ICBM that launched Sputnik.  Because it was so much bigger, faster and flew so much higher than any other rocket that had ever been devised, they were having tremendous problems with the thermal shields that protected the warheads. 

Every time they went up and then started coming back down they would incinerate the warhead.  So this thing was in fact not a viable ICBM, but just a very big and expensive rocket.  And as has sort of become known in the last few years, since people in the Soviet Union that had participated in this program were finally allowed to speak and publish and things like that, Sergei Korolev -- I mean, very unfamiliar to most Americans, despite the massive influence he's had on this country in almost total anonymity -- wanted to distract the impatient Kremlin.  And there had been this competition, the IGY, which both the United States and the Soviet Union had sort of committed to sending up a satellite. 

I don't think either side took it particularly seriously, but certainly not the Soviets.  But to buy some time, so they could work on the thermal shields, they decided to launch a satellite.  And when the satellite went up, Khrushchev -- and even Sergey Korolev and the Russians -- views this as only more test of the military capabilities of the rocket.  It was only when they woke up the next morning and the world was aflame did they realize, oh, this is a political weapon!  (Laughter.)  And it's sort of the irony that, you know, that the space race and the myth of exploration in science is very deeply rooted in the arms race.

UTLEY:  Roger, let's go onto you and get your historian's perspective on this.  Just pick up one point -- maybe the Soviets didn't know really the impact of what they were doing.  And President Eisenhower at the time didn't view this as a serious threat at all, but it struck everybody else in the nation right in the gut.  What's your take on this?

ROGER LAUNIUS:  Well, it didn't strike them immediately.  You mentioned "Leave It To Beaver."  There were other things that were taking place that concerned a lot of people -- the Little Rock desegregation issue was under way at this time and that had a lot of people of great interest.  And oh, by the way, the Milwaukee Braves with a very young Hank Aaron were in the process of beating the New York Yankees in the World Series and there was a lot of excitement about that too -- and it said a lot of things about integration in that context as well.

But it took awhile for things to kind of gin up.  And for the first couple of weeks after Sputnik, the initial responses from the White House were relatively effective in terms of, "Don't worry.  Be calm.  We've got this under control.  It's not really a big deal."  Ike had a press conference just a few days after Sputnik, and he effectively handled the questions at that point.  It's not until a little bit later on in the middle of the month, really, when a number of political leaders on the other side, led by Lyndon Johnson, said, "Aha!  You know, we can use this to embarrass the Eisenhower administration."  It is a legitimate issue.  There is obviously, as Matt just said a moment ago, a real military issue associated with this and it's not the satellite itself.  It is the rocket that carries it and is the Eisenhower administration doing all that it should be doing in the context of keeping the United States safe? 

Their answer to that was "absolutely not" and they began to talk about this and there was an enormous amount of excitement that got ginned up, which was made worse on the third of November -- I actually think that there's a triple play that takes places in the fall of 1957.  First is the launch of Sputnik.  That suggests that the Soviets have a capability that we don't have yet and there's a concern about that that starts to emerge.  Then that is doubly the case on the third of November when they launched Sputnik-2, which is much bigger -- about the size of a Volkswagen and has a dog aboard.  And so they demonstrate once again they have an enormous capability.  And then we follow that with the third strike, which is on the 6th of December of 1957 we try to launch a Vanguard rocket, which was our entry into the International Geophysical Year scientific effort, and announced that we were going to do this.  It was all on television.  It was the most beautiful explosion you've ever seen. 

But those three -- the two Soviet successes coupled with an American failure -- I should tell you, I don't remember Sputnik, but I do remember the early 1960s and watching some of those rockets and I think I was five or six before I realized they weren't supposed to explode on the ground -- (laughter) -- because they seemed to do it a lot.  And that was what -- that's what the Vanguard was.  Those events coupled with a persistent drumbeat led by political opponents, as well as others who had agendas to pursue, suggested that the United States had to do much more to respond to this than Eisenhower was ever willing to do.  And that set us in train for a series of actions in 1958.  I think we'll talk about those in a minute.

UTLEY: Well, we can because, I mean, again -- we all have these memories.  I was a freshman in college and the college president called a convocation of the students -- all-college meeting to discuss this and the implication -- he was a scientist -- and what it was going to lead to. 

And just to go down the list very quickly:  By July of '58, NASA was created.  The Advanced Research Projects Agency was created in February, which led to, among other things, the Internet; National Defense Education Act of 1958.  Government was financing about 75 percent of R&D by the early 1960s.  Today the private sector finances 70 percent of R&D.  And this had that kind of an impact.

When you looked into this, Matt, I mean, the public opinion -- Pearl Harbor you understand; 9/11 you understand.  Was it because, as Roger suggested, this was an existential question that any man or woman on the street could clearly understand?  That something was up there going beep, beep, beep.

BRZEZINSKI:  The public opinion aspect of this on both sides, actually, is to me fascinating, because in the United States -- as Roger was just saying -- the initial reaction was really blase.  So how do we go from blase, worried about the World Series, to essentially terror stricken in the space of a few weeks?  And here is where I find, you know, the role of the media very interesting.

There's an interesting sort of parallel -- a contemporary parallel to this, which is a study that was done in 2002 about who was the most traumatized by the terrorist strikes.  And what they found is it was not people who lived in New York City or in Washington, but people who watched television the most.  So it was the influence of seeing those images over and over and hearing those sound bytes and listening to the chattering classes.  And essentially, this sort of the same thing happened in the 1950s where you had this -- I don't want to suggest it was a conspiracy or anything like that.  You just had a convergence of interest, I think is probably the best way of putting it, where you had the Democrats saying, hey, we can -- Eisenhower was untouchable, as you probably remember better than I.  And here was this great opportunity to go after somebody who'd basically had been off limits and forced the Republicans on their own petard.  And I am struck by how much more aggressive and dirtier the Democrats played in those days than they do today.  (Scattered laughter.)

UTLEY:  It's a different Democratic Party.

BRZEZINSKI:  And clearly, we in the media, we saw an opportunity to sell newspapers.  Television was entering sort of its golden age and this was a great way of, you know, getting people to watch.  And in the same way in the Soviet Union, when the leadership didn't understand what Sputnik was all about, on October 5th the headline in Pravda was about the winter harvest and Sputnik was relegated to this little squib.  Then they saw the sort of the global reaction and they said, hey, we're onto something.  And the next day's Pravda was, you know, front-to-cover Sputnik.  And people in the Soviet Union sort of latched onto this in a very different way. 

Once they were told how important this was, this became for them almost something that they could justify why their standards of living were so low.  That yes, we may have crummy Bulgarian shoes; and they have beautiful colorful televisions in the West, but they're empty and decadent and we, you know, are striving for the future in this new age and so our values are better.  And it made, you know -- and so those two things are very interesting -- how we as the public are manipulated.

UTLEY:  And Roger, there was more than one thing that happened in this society, whatever the media role, et cetera, may have been or the political influences or dynamics.  All of this money was being invested through various congressional actions and the president was signing them. 

That created -- and we'll get to the Apollo and how American technology went ahead -- it created a class of engineers.  Not just people engineers, you know, the short-sleeve and white shirts and the pocket protectors and --

LAUNIUS:  Crew cuts.

UTLEY:  -- crew cuts, the whole thing, of the 1960s.  That became as identifiable and as a part of culture as the longhaired, anti-establishment, anti-war demonstrators.  There were these two parallel societies.  But the engineers were there.  The scientists were there.  That's a whole generation -- much of which now is nearing retirement age, if it hasn't.  Just tell us a bit about what this meant in terms of human talent in this country -- what was created.

LAUNIUS:  One of the things that happened in the aftermath of Sputnik, and I actually contend -- most people remember NASA being created, since it's such a visible federal agency today.  And Eisenhower opposed its creation, by the way.  He didn't want to do it.  He thought that, I mean, his comment was, "Why do we create a permanent federal bureaucracy to solve a short-term problem?"  And he says, "Hey, how many of you know of any federal agency that's ever gone out of business?"  So that's one issue. 

But one of the really significant outgrowths of the set of issues in the Sputnik winter of '57-'58 was the passage of the National Defense Education Act, which is not usually remembered by a lot of people, but had enormous implications.  It made millions of dollars available to graduate and undergraduate education in science and math and engineering.  It made a lot of money available to K through 12 education -- not to hire more teachers in the classroom necessarily, but to develop curriculum and to do teacher training and to plus-up our capabilities in science and math at those lower levels and in the public school systems.

And that funding was made available to train, really, a whole generation of engineers and scientists.  And there are any number of people who will tell you -- that were a part of NASA in the '60s and '70s -- that they went to school based upon those activities.  And it made possible to them opportunities they never would have had in any other way. 

It's remarkable; I've done a lot of world histories with Apollo engineers and scientists and all of them say -- I shouldn't say all of them -- but the vast majority of them say, You know, I'm the first person in my family to go to college.  I went to the state technical school, you know, Purdue or Ohio State or Georgia Tech or someplace like that -- not to an Ivy League school.  And when I emerged from this process, I went to work at NASA and started -- and went to the moon.  And oh, by the way, we were all a bunch of 20-somethings and 30-somethings and nobody among us knew that we couldn't do this.  And that was one of the outgrowths of that.

It really did change, you know, in ways that we have not really begun to understand and explore thoroughly our society as a result of that influx of science and technology talent that really did change our way of life.

UTLEY:  Go ahead.

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, if I could just add to that:  I mean, it's interesting why all these things happened.  You know, federally-backed college loans -- that was another consequence of Sputnik.  You know, we sort of -- when the Soviets were firing these things off one after another and ours were exploding we sort of -- we went into this funk and this soul searching, essentially.  And you had, you know, newspaper editorials and the New York Times ran a whole series on what's wrong with our education system.  I remember Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, testifying in front of Congress that what's wrong with our values when we prize football players over university professors? 

UTLEY:  That's a good question.

BRZEZINSKI:  I was reading Newsweek -- you know, exactly -- only a few months ago and we're still asking the very same questions.  I mean, it is very, very true that in this country I think we value -- young kids, they all want to be lawyers.  They all want -- maybe doctors.  Nobody wants to be a scientist.  I think that's changing a little bit.  The Internet revolution and the fact that you have, you know, Sergey Brin and all these young twenty-something's that are multibillionaires is changing things culturally.

But you know, what we've done historically in this country is we've imported this sort of labor.  If you look, you know, our atomic bomb was built with large imported labor:  refugees from Central Europe.  I mean, the space race -- the Apollo program, the moon.  You know, we went on the moon using, again -- again, this wasn't refugees maybe from Nazi Germany, but actual scientists from Nazi Germany -- actually Nazis, yes.  And today, if you look at Silicon Valley or I was just in Plano, Texas last week and there's a little mini Silicon Valley there.  And half of Plano, Texas was born in China or India.  We are still importing that labor, because it just isn't sexy for young Americans.  Nobody dreams of becoming a mathematician or a physicist here. 

And I think that, you know, I don't think that that's a major crisis, as long as we open our doors to people from countries where that is very important.  And you know, I don't think people -- you know, people say, oh, my, China is going to get ahead of us because they're much better with math.  Terrific -- let them pay to educate their kids in math and once they finish their PhDs, we're happy to have them come over here and I think that's okay.

UTLEY:  I mean, we're going -- and this is something that has to be discussed right now, because this is part of the long-term legacy of Sputnik.  We're in a different kind of competitive science and technological race right now, but it is still very, very, very important -- almost existential.

Let me go back to one more point about that era -- the late '50s and into the 1960s when NASA was starting with Mercury, Gemini and the Apollo program.

Roger, let's say that Sputnik was launched nearly at the end of the industrial era.  The Soviets knew how to do things big:  big dams, big tanks, big rockets.  That was what they did -- big five-year plans, big steel mills. 

LAUNIUS:  Right. 

UTLEY:  And a big rocket put up this thing in space.  What came out of that in the next couple of years, starting with the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which led to the Internet, was really the start of -- not the start, but an effective way to start the Internet or the information-technology age.

President Kennedy went to Congress a few months after taking the oath of office and said we're going to go to the moon.  And that required big rockets, which we finally got with the Saturn-5, but it also required a whole different dimension of creativity, of freedom of thought, and the technological and engineering talent to get you there.  Once you had the big rocket to put you -- was this a crossroads between the industrial age or can it be seen as a crossroads between the industrial age and the new information-technology age?

LAUNIUS:  Oh, I think you can make that case without too much difficulty at all.  I mean, it's interesting.  When you look at kind of pre-Sputnik visions of space flight it's always huge armadas of great rockets and large groups of people doing things  And one of the ironies of kind of 50 years of the space age since Sputnik was launched, is that most of that stuff didn't happen.  I mean, we obviously went to the moon, but not with huge armadas of 10 ships and 100 people like was being proposed previously. 

What we were able to do was actually much more significant and it was all based on -- I shouldn't say all of it, but a significant amount of it was based on our success with microelectronics, with new information technology that enabled us to do things robotically that we had never dreamt of before.  The Soviets lacked in that particular type of technology.  And it really did defeat them, ultimately, in the 1960s when they decided that they wanted to go the moon, because they could not build rockets and the other technological components that were necessary, because they didn't have the information technology.  They didn't have the material science and they didn't have the other necessary ingredients to make that happen.

The United States really pioneered in that kind of development of electronics information technology and so forth.  And that was a fundamental shift.

UTLEY:  And following up, Roger, on Matt's point about today when you look at this generation of engineers who are retiring and who is taking their place, if anyone.  What are your thoughts on this?

LAUNIUS:  Well, I mean, one of the issues we've got is -- and Matt said it a moment ago in the context of we're able to hire this talent and the best minds in the world come to the United States to study science and engineering and that's great.  And many of them remain in the United States or have in the past.

One of the things that the National Academy of Sciences has just completed a recent study called "Rising Above the Gathering Storm."  I'd recommend that you look at it if you're interested in the subject.  And one of the things that they find is that whereas those individuals used to stay in the U.S. and work, they're now returning home more and more all the time.  And so places like India, China, Japan, Indonesia of all places -- a variety of other instances where they are being trained here, leaving and are not contributing to our technology base at all.  So that's a challenge for the future.

UTLEY:  It's like a zero-sum game, because if they go back and work for IBM or Intel or Lucent in China or India or vice a versa -- somebody coming over here.  Do you we still look at in this nation-against-nation competition or is there another way of looking at this?

LAUNIUS:  That's an interesting question.  It's not just a zero-sum game.  There's clearly some, obviously, transformation that's taking place, but do we care as long as they're working for companies that are doing things that we can benefit from?  Maybe not.  What happens, though, if we have a hostile situation with another nation and our capabilities as the world leader in technology, which has made us the world power -- the 20th century is referred routinely as the American century.  It's pretty much true, but it was built upon our science and technology as much as anything.  And if we do not have that inherent to us, what does that portend for the future?

UTLEY:  Well, we're going to get into technology transfer and a lot of other issues, but now we want to turn it over to the floor and your thoughts and any questions.  There is a microphone, although we probably don't need a microphone in this conversation.

Please give us your name and pose the question to one or more of the panelists.  Let's start right here.

QUESTIONER:  Marta Varela, Hunter College.

I'm wanting to ask the panel about the coincidence of the rise of the space program, but also the broadening of the American educational base.  Wasn't there also a significant increase in the funding for all types of education, such that one of the things that I think or might offer as a reason for the enthusiasm for these space programs was that the fact that for many people -- as you pointed out in the example of the astronauts -- a lot of Americans suddenly became college graduates and American education became based on having a college degree where previously many people had only had high school degrees and there was a great class divide between the college boys and the people that had to go to work as soon as their families needed them.

BRZEZINSKI:  Education is your field.

LAUNIUS:  Yeah.  Well, clearly there is a relationship there and it's not just the National Defense Education Act.  I mean, the GI Bill after World War II made it possible for millions of individuals to go to college that probably wouldn't have had the chance to do so previously.  And so we created a much broader kind of educated class than had ever existed in American history.  And I suspect that there's a direct correlation between interest in and support for science and technology based upon educational backgrounds and higher education.  In fact, we know this from all kinds of other studies.

NASA loves to check out these things, and they do it routinely.  And we've found all the time that people who are a little better educated, have a little more understanding of science and technology, and especially those that -- you know, what percentage of the population even today has flashing 12s on their VCRs and DVD players because they can't figure out how to program the timer?  (Laughter.)  But that's hopefully going down all the time, but those who do know how to do that, and it's a rising number, have a greater appreciation for what went into the creation of that piece of technology.  And by extension, they have a greater appreciation for what NASA does and other high-technology activities.

BRZEZINSKI:  One of the -- we could talk about education and sort of the scientific legacy.  But I mean, to me, and what sometimes I find this is lost, is that really NASA saw sort of the public side of this.  The real innovation and the real money went into the non-public side which was the ballistic missiles.  And you know, it was important for the United States which had been humiliated to put a man on the moon.  But it was far more important for both countries to start building bigger, better faster.  And so that most of the money in the 1960s -- I mean, DARPA was not created for NASA.  I mean, these things were all created for national security reasons.  And you know, we spent quite a bit of money going to the moon.  But we spent a heck of a lot more money building missiles, you know, that could strike the Soviet Union at any time.  And that's something, you know that it all comes down to.  The military impetus is much, much, much more important.

LAUNIUS:  May I make one more?

UTLEY:  Yeah.

LAUNIUS:  Matt's absolute right about the rocket technology and all the associated components of it.  And there's one other piece that he didn't mention, but it deserves a mention here, and that's reconnaissance satellites.  That was absolutely a critical component of what the Eisenhower administration was wanting to create.  Matt was talking earlier about all of the over-flights of Soviet territory and concern about shoot-downs and their worst shoot-downs.  And of course, everybody's familiar with the very public U-2 episode in 1960 where they shot down France's Gary Powers. 

What Ike wanted to create was a capability to over-fly the Soviet Union with relative impunity and take pictures and find out what they're doing.  And he was very concerned about creating what was known as freedom of space or open skies doctrine, where territorial air limits did not extend into infinity, and that space would be treated as a preserve that all could fly in.  And he did so because of the reconnaissance satellites.  Sputnik enabled that, because they set the precedent.

UTLEY:  And lots of questions here.  Let's just start one, two, three, okay?

Right there.

QUESTIONER:  You mentioned the training of engineering and scientists.  But also very important was the training of foreign area people.  There was a national defense foreign language study from which I benefited particularly.  But it almost seems as if -- I'd like your comment on this -- it almost seems as if you have to have a crisis to get people involved in foreign areas and recognize the significance of studying Arabic or Turkish or Chinese or whatever.

UTLEY:  I think we'd agree, and that's why Arabic studies are going up in American campuses.

BRZEZINSKI:  Right.  And that's one reason why NASA, I think, today is -- and I'll let you take this, because it's your field -- but I think NASA's in a crisis, because there is no crisis, there is no more competition.  Not for naught that since we won the space race, we haven't been back in like 35 years.

UTLEY:  Thirty-five years.

BRZEZINSKI:  And probably the best thing that could happen for NASA is if China or Russia or India did something absolutely spectacular, which got our competitive juices flowing again over here.

UTLEY:  Question right there.

QUESTIONER:  Alan Heimer (ph) from Columbia Presbyterian.  Following up on the question about the missile, I recall in 1960, and perhaps Mr. Sorenson would like to make a comment, the campaign between Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy focused on the so-called missile gap.  It was a hot issue.  How valid was that as an issue?  And do you think that had an importance in the outcome of that election?

BRZEZINSKI:  The irony is there was no missile gap.  Effectively, it was a sort of a repeat of this sort of 1956 air power hearings in which very famously missile budgets ended up being chopped because the U.S. Air Force and the Boeing company presented all this very interesting information saying the Soviet Union's about to build the biggest fleet of long-range bombers, and we immediately need a billion-dollar supplemental.  In those days, the entire defense budget was $30 billion.  It was a large sum of money.  And then to balance the budget, they had to basically cut missile spending to put all this money in to bombers that were completely superfluous.

And in the same way, just as the administration knew that there was no bomber gap because of the U-2s, we knew there was no missile gap, again because of the U-2s.  But the irony is that the R-7, the missile that put Sputnik up and 1 and 2 and then put Gagarin up, it was a wonderful, wonderful, heavy-lift space vehicle.  But the same property that made it such a good cargo carrier made it a horrible missile.  And -- I mean, this thing was 33 feet wide.  You couldn't put it in a silo.  It weight almost 200 tons.  You couldn't move it.  The concrete apron for the blast -- to absorb the blast of it was four football fields.  I mean, you didn't even need the U-2.  You could go to the top of the Empire State Building, you can probably see the launch pad over there in the Soviet Union.  They only ended up building a few of them. 

But because it was so successful politically as a propaganda tool, this distracted Kruschev.  And effectively, you know, they then sort of took their eye off the ball, the primary mission which was the ICBM.  And by the time they realized that oh my goodness, this R-7 is not that good, the U.S. had learned its lesson very quickly, opened the floodgates to all sorts of spending.  And the same strategic imbalance which had forced them to build the ICBM in the first place had now been replicated only with us having ICBMs in Turkey, in Italy, in the U.K.  And this, in a sense, led to -- and then there was sort of the successor to the R-7 which used a storable propellant.  Oh yeah, and the other thing, it took a whole day to fuel this thing, to pump 170 tons of liquid oxygen into it.  So it was not an ideal.

So the successor then blew up during a test so that its implementation was delayed.  And this, in a sense, brought us to the Cuban missile crisis because in a panic to buy time before their ICBM could go into service, they wanted to put missiles, intermediate range missiles.  But no, there was no missile gap.  There is a very, very cynical even notes from one of LBJ's -- George Reedy -- one of his aides which said boy, we're really running with this thing, and we're making it sound like there's thousands and thousands of them over there.  I mean, and this was, you know, complete just sheer politics. 

UTLEY:  As we go on -- Ted, if any -- yes, your hand is going up.  Either on missile race, missile gaps --

TED SORENSON:  I would like to make a comment.

UTLEY:  (Laughter.)  Yeah, please. 

Please, Ted, the floor is yours.  There's a mike right there.

SORENSON:  Do I need to stand?

UTLEY:  No, sit right down.

SORENSON:  Some of what you said is accurate, not all of it.  (Laughter.)  There is a direct line between Sputnik going up in 1957 and John F. Kennedy being elected in 1960.  And by the way, as a small footnote of dim memory, there may be one other item on that list of things which flowed from Sputnik going up, which might seem totally unrelated.  But I recall, in order to complete and facilitate the industrialization of America, the Interstate Highway Act was also put on the books.  And that has been of tremendous benefit to this country ever since.

In any event, worry about what the Soviets were doing as a result of Sputnik caused the appointment of at least three commissions.  One was called the Gaither Commission, one was called the Rockefeller commission, chaired by the then or about-to-be governor of New York.  And I have no recollection whatsoever what the third was.  (Laughter.)  In any event, all three of them came to the conclusion that the Soviets, for a variety of reasons, had more powerful rocket thrusts than we did.  It was later explained to me by Hugh Dryden -- I'm sure you know who that is, a wonderful deputy director of NASA -- that we developed first the hydrogen bomb which was much lighter and didn't require as big a rocket thrust.  So the Soviets, not having a hydrogen bomb, were developing more rocket thrust than we were. 

In any event, each of these three commissions came to the conclusion that because the Soviets were ahead on rocket thrust and space experience, they could easily, if they weren't already, be ahead in missiles.  And each of these three commissions came to that same conclusion.  As you've noted, Lyndon Johnson, then the Senate majority leader, picked it up.  A syndicated columnist named Joe Alsop wrote it over and over again.  I believe he coined the phrase missile gap.  Stuart Symington on the Armed Services Committee, another potential presidential candidate, rode that issue hard.  And Kennedy, whose basic theme -- (inaudible) -- of course, in the early days as a candidate in '57.  But he was saying we must do better.  We must get this society moving again.  We are falling behind the Soviets in one area of activity after another.  And he used these reports saying there was a missile gap as the prime example of his theme.  And while he didn't talk about it as much as Symington and Johnson did, there's no doubt that it was one of the examples that he used.  And it may very well have helped to elect him.

Eisenhower, after Kennedy was the nominee, gave him a national security briefing.  And apparently at that time, the reconnaissance satellite photos which show that the Soviets were actually behind us had not yet been developed.  And therefore, he had no evidence to give to Kennedy to back up his insistence that Kennedy stop talking about a missile gap.  And when Kennedy continued to talk about a missile gap, Eisenhower was furious.  Kennedy won.  Within about I would say four months of his taking office, he discovered -- or the Defense Department discovered -- that the missile gap was in our favor.  And Kennedy didn't exactly stand naked in Macy's window and declare that -- (laughter) -- but he arranged instead for the Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric to, a very low-key kind of way, announce it in a speech that the United States had a tremendous lead over the Soviet Union in deliverable missile power.

UTLEY:  Ted, while you have the microphone, can I just -- I think we'd all be interested --

SORENSON:  I'll come back some other time and be up there.

UTLEY:  That's all right.  But just one other quick question on this.  Maybe there isn't a quick answer.  Four months after the administration took office, the president made a speech to Congress about going to the moon.  I believe it was in the spring of '61.

SORENSON:  It was in May.

UTLEY:  To your knowledge, what was the catalyzing event or factor that got the president to get up and make that speech which so characterized not just his administration but American society and accomplishment in the 1960s?  It was not a scientific mission.  Was it just to show the world what we could do?  What was it that mobilized the president to say that?

SORENSON:  That speech was, in effect, a second State of the Union message, because so much had happened since the first State of the Union.  One of them was Kennedy's own disaster, the Bay of Pigs.  And he learned a few things about what worked and what didn't work in the world.  The second was the discovery that Congress was turning against foreign development and humanitarian aid at a time when we needed much more of it to try to win friends and stabilize situations around the world.  But the third was the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the first man -- actually, I believe he was in orbit but not in outer space. 

And it so happens that I was very much involved in what happened that week and in the weeks that followed.  And Kennedy decided to put all of these items into one speech.  He called it the address on urgent national needs.  And in that speech for the first time, he called for an American decision to send a man to the moon and I might add bring him back -- (scattered laughter) -- and then to do it within the decade.  That was a slight hedge on his part and mine.  Within the decade could have meant the '60s or it could have meant 10 years away or, you know, sometimes people say a decade ends in 00, sometimes they say it ends in 01.  But in any event, I'll be back next May when my memoirs are out.  (Laughter.)  You know, they tell that story in some detail.

BRZEZINSKI:  While you still have the mike, I'm curious.  How would you rate President Eisenhower's handling of the Sputnik crisis?  That's a reasonably controversial subject with people usually either saying he really dropped the ball or saying he was incredibly shrewd.  How would you rate it?

SORENSON:  Well, I don't think he responded in anything like the dimensions of change and potential catastrophe that that Sputnik flight would have portended. 

UTLEY:  There's an answer.

Question over here.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  My name is Joanna Weschler with Security Council Report.

I was actually fascinated by Mr. Brzezinski's comparison between a Sputnik crisis and September 11th, 2001.  In fairness to myself, I watched the space race from the other side of iron curtain from Poland, so obviously I was taught completely different side of events.  But having said that, everything that was said here shows what an incredibly important, positive impulse that traumatic experience has been.  If there is a meeting in 2051 in Council on Foreign Relations, does anybody think that, other than the increase in the number of students of Arabic language, will there be anything positive that came out of that experience in September 2001 that can be compared to what came out of Sputnik?

BRZEZINSKI:  I would hope, if anything, it's got us interested in the world abroad again, temporarily.  Because certainly after winning the Cold War, we climbed into very much a shell where all people cared about was shows like "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" and, as you remember, the Internet bubble.  And I think that there is -- you could then make the comparison of the mid 1950s, the "Leave It To Beaver" era of sort of this complacency and wealth, with the 1990s.  And I think that 9/11 certainly shook us out of our complacency.  I think it's very debatable whether, you know, we've taken steps and measures in the right direction.  But I think that, you know -- I feel that historians 50 years from now will have a real field day looking at all the things that have happened since then.

UTLEY:  Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER:  I remember the Sputnik thing very well.  And I clearly remember that there was a brave, young, four-star general who ran the Transport Command who had in his pocket two scientists who did the space engineering, the moon shot.  These were in the private industry.  He was president of Hughes Aircraft -- they had gotten him out of the Air Force.  And they later were on the front of Time magazine.  It seemed to me at the time that they were galvanized by Sputnik.  I don't think our media is doing anything like they're doing for global warming, which is great, but we should get ourselves organized to alert people because these two scientists, Ramo and Woolridge, then merged with a private firm called Thompson -- it's TRW, and they made billions of dollars.  And I'm sure they've taken a lot of government contracts to do it.  But they were trying to make a machine that was like the human brain which went in to the Internet and the whole thing.  They were brilliant.

And I'm just wondering -- and I remember, we gave a party of them when they were on the cover of Time magazine because they were friends and clients.  But it is very important that we keep up a momentum of excitement and challenge.  Because if you're happy with all these people coming here and getting their Ph.D. somewhere else and working here, but we have Americans who can do this.  And we ought to be sure that they are not only funded but glamorized and made --

BRZEZINSKI:  But they are being glamorized.


BRZEZINSKI:  If you look at -- who was on the -- what is the name of that young kid from -- Mark Zuckerman is it or Zuckerberg from Facebook on the cover of Newsweek a few weeks ago.  Look at -- I think that, you know, that the fortunes being made by twenty-something-year-olds in the Internet and in high tech is glamorizing it.  And if you take network television as sort of the barometer of what is glam and what is not glam in large parts of the country -- I mean, look at one of the most popular show, "CSI," which is about -- it's not about police detectives shooting, it's about scientists uncovering evidence that will solve crimes.  There are other numbers, you know.  There's another program called "Numbers" about a mathematician who works with the police uncovering crimes using algorithms.  I mean, 15, 20 years ago during the era of "Miami Vice," this would have been unthinkable.

And so as young people, you know, who strike it rich, you know, in these various fields, they are making it, I think, more appealing and more sexy.  And I think that's got to have an effect when, you know, some of the most popular shows on television glorify young scientists.  That has to have some effect down the road.  I mean, there's always a lag.

LAUNIUS:  Can I follow on to that --

QUESTIONER:  How many young people look at "CSI" as opposed to the -- (inaudible)?  (Laughter.)

LAUNIUS:  One comment, and it follows with both that have just followed.  Sy Ramo realized on the day that Sputnik went up -- he talks about this a lot -- that this is where the future is.  And he seized an initiative to create a new organization that would then be able to capitalize on that and do useful things.  That makes him not unlike a lot of other people who, like the young fellow you talked about with Facebook, who saw something in things around them and figured out ways to use it effectively for the future.  And I think we'll still see that.  And one of the things that America has always had going for it is enormous industry and creativity and innovation.  And those things played out in the context of Sputnik and the early space race of the 1960s as well as more recently.

UTLEY:  A few more questions. 

Right here then over here.

QUESTIONER:  Herbert Levin.  Would you agree with my friends at NASA who say it's really important to get rid of the manned space program?  It's bleeding money and attention away from more serious things.  And it's done, because the astronauts parade around, and they get attention, and they get congressional appropriations.

UTLEY:  Roger first.

LAUNIUS:  Okay, I think that one was for me.  You know, I mean, NASA has many missions.  Human space flight is one of them.  Human space exploration is a piece of that.  But the critics of human space flight usually view it as a zero-sum game.  And space scientists, for instance, routinely say we shouldn't have this human program at all, because all it does is take money away from real science.  It can be done with somehow a belief which I believe is misguided that if we didn't have the human program that money would automatically go to science.  I don't think there's any reason to believe that whatsoever.  But having said that, I think you do have to ask the question, what is the long-term objectives of a human program versus any of the other things that NASA's been doing?  And do we have the right mix of human, robotic, earth science and so forth?  And that's a debate in which people of good will on all sides can disagree.

QUESTIONER:  Jeff Laurenti at the Century Foundation.

Two questions if I can.  First, did the administration's, did America's surprise at the launching of Sputnik trigger charges of what we now call intelligence failure, had they not known that the Soviets were building rockets of this size or were developing this capability?  And second, did the Europeans react with anywhere near the panic that the Americans did?  And was this possibly a case of the president's party that for a decade had been whipping up fear of Communism now being hoisted on its own petard while the Europeans may have viewed as well, interesting to know, but it's not make or break?  What was the difference on the two sides of the Atlantic?

BRZEZINSKI:  Well, Sputnik was not a surprise.  There had been a lot of -- actually, the Russians themselves were uncharacteristically catty about the whole subject.  And that was a sure sign that something was going to happen.  The New York Times had basically written stories saying something's going to happen.  But what you have to remember is that at the time, there was the crisis in Little Rock.  And for the first time since the Civil War, you had federal troops occupying the South.  And so politicians and the media were distracted with this other crisis.  I mean, one of the things that apparently Eisenhower said, you know, when he heard is he said oh no, what did he do now, meaning Governor Faubus down in Arkansas.  And he was almost relieved to hear oh no, it's only the Russians.  (Laughter.) 

But of course, you know, there were plenty of recriminations and accusations.  It wasn't about failed intelligence, although Allen Dulles -- there's a great -- Allen Dulles turns to an aide and says thank God we mentioned this, you know, so it's on the record -- at some key meeting so they were covered bureaucratically.  You know, the recriminations, of course, that we talked -- but those, you know, those were politically charged.  And there was absolutely not shortage of malcontents, you know, in Washington in the missile programs which had really, you know -- I mean, officially they had priority status.  But you know, financially they really didn't.  And in fact, Trevor Gardner who was the Pentagon's sort of missile czar had just resigned in protect, because the missile programs were all languishing.

As for the Europeans, it had actually a very profound effect in Europe.  There was a poll that was done.  And I don't know if I have the exact figures off the top of my head.  But it was something along the lines where before Sputnik 67 (percent) or 70 percent of our NATO allies thought the U.S. was far superior militarily to the Soviets.  After Sputnik, only 6 (percent) or 7 percent or something.  We dropped into the single digits.  In fact, you know, Eisenhower suffered a stroke actually on the day that LBJ gaveled open his famous Sputnik Congress, the preparedness hearings.  Some people attribute it to stroke to actually all the unaccustomed criticism that he was receiving.  Remember, he had gone, in the space of literally a few weeks, his approval rating dropped 22 percent.  I mean, you know, and it would drop another 11 (percent) when our thing would blow up.  And so we were looking at -- you know, you lose a 33 -- it's taken our current president a few years to get there, and this all happened in a six-week span. 

So Ike suffers this stroke, and he's really unsure whether or not to resign.  And in fact, the situation is very serious.  And Nixon knows this, because Nixon is much maligned, as many of you recall, in the White House.  And Sherman Adams, Ike's sort of very loyal and ferocious doorkeeper who's usually not very nice to Nixon, Nixon knows that Ike is in real trouble, because suddenly Sherman Adams starts being nice to him.  (Laughter.)  And then when the day passes and Sherman Adams returns to his snippy old self, Nixon knows that Ike is feeling better.  (Laughter.) 

But one of the tests that Eisenhower sets for himself of whether or not he would resign was that he was supposed to go to a NATO meeting in Paris to convince very jittery allies that, you know, all was well in America and also to convince them to accept intermediate-range missiles.  And this meeting took place only a couple of weeks after our rocket blows up on the launch pad, which is not a very good advertising when you're trying to, you know, to deploy these things in other people's countries. 

But no, in Europe, in a sense -- and of course, there were very famous, very snippy editorials in France, which kind of gleefully said ah, America's not used to being in this position.

UTLEY:  Roger, we're at the end of the hour right now.  But any final thoughts you have.

LAUNIUS:  Let me just add to what Matt said.  It's not just the allies that was of great concern.  USIA did a number of polls all through the 1950s and '60s to look at this thing.  And they were concerned about non-aligned nations and which side would they cast their lot with.  There was a real concern that they might decide, you know, ultimately the Russians are going to be the dominant power in the world, and we want to be on the winning side.  And so we need to maintain a level of competence that we demonstrate to the world.  And so prestige abroad is a very real part of what NASA was about especially.  And we can't forget that as well.

UTLEY:  Well, thank you very much.  One footnote, historic footnote -- Sputnik went up on October 4th, 1957 -- 184 pounds more or less, orbited the earth, an elliptical path, every 98 minutes and fell to earth three months later on January 4th, 1958.  And "Leave It To Beaver" is still running in syndication.  (Laughter.)

Thank you.  (Applause.)








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