Sputnik Redux

More than 50 years ago, the so-called “Sputnik moment” was a wake-up call that pushed the US to increase investment in technology and science education. Now America has had its "Dragon moment": for the first time, a private company has built and successfully launched a spacecraft into orbit and then recovered it from a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

CAPE CANAVERAL – More than 50 years ago (1957), the Soviets launched the world’s first orbiting satellite, beating the US into space. For Americans, the so-called “Sputnik moment” was a wake-up call that pushed the United States to increase investment in technology and science education. Months later, the US launched the Explorer 1 satellite, and the race was on. Children were encouraged to study math and science, and American know-how helped the US meet the challenge.

But things have slowed down dramatically since then, and NASA has been trying since early November to get its latest shuttle ready for launch. In December, US President Barack Obama talked of the need for a new “Sputnik moment” to revitalize America’s once-leading role in technology.

Ironically, that moment happened two days later, but with lamentably little media coverage. However, this Sputnik moment – actually a “Dragon moment” – delivers a somewhat different message. The launch of the Dragon spacecraft was in fact a US achievement, in a traditionally American spirit. On December 8, a US company, SpaceX, founded by an immigrant and financed mostly by private US investors, successfully launched a spacecraft into orbit and then recovered it from a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

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