Space Brains

Fifty years ago, the Soviets launched Sputnik. The U.S. flipped out--then got smart

NASA

Astronaut Edward White walking in space.

You know your space program is in trouble when you're not sure whether one of your rockets just blew up. Americans go swoony when they talk about the romantic early days of space exploration, but what we forget is that a lot of that period was less romance than pratfall. Our worst pie-in-the-face moment came on Dec. 6, 1957, the day we attempted to launch our first satellite.

The Vanguard rocket that the U.S. hoped to send up that morning was a modest, --pencil-like thing, but in what was already the American fashion, we switched on the TV cameras to let the...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!