Sputnik Catches Farm Boy’s Interest

On a particularly cool, crisp fall late afternoon of 1957, my father, brother, grandfather and myself were walking from the dairy barn as we had done numerous times before on my grandfather’s dairy farm after the evening milking. The day had been much like any other, except for this evening we noticed a bright ball of light moving across the western sky as the sun was making its final departure for the day. We all stopped watching its unusual movement and immediately noticed that it was not an airplane. Instead, it was the Russian satellite known as “Sputnik” and the ushering in of a new day of technology along with a multitude of scientific developments that would change all of our lives forever.

Just as that early evening I watched the beginning of our country’s race into space as a young child, on the morning of July 21 this year at the age of 62, I watched the final landing of the space shuttle ending an era of take-offs and landings for the NASA program. I still remember the excitement of John Glenn blasting off into space, the splashdowns in the ocean and watching much of it on black and white TVs at school. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 21, 1969 and uttered those words which are still the most famous words ever spoken, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” a generation of us knew there was no limit to what we could do if we just put our minds to it. Even though there were those who had doubt and said it was all produced in a movie studio, my generation knew it wasn’t and saw a lot of hope for the future in the space program.

From the NASA program a lot of things have evolved for all of us. The hand-held vacuum cleaner was born from this program, along with more battery-powered gadgets that we no longer can do without. The firefighter’s breathing apparatus used today is a product adapted from life-support systems used in spacesuits. The personal storm warning systems that detect lightning for boaters, golfers and those flying private airplanes came from the Space Shuttle. We have better sunglasses, improved car crash technology, plane wing-tip designs, freeze-dried meals, baby foods, heart surgery lasers, life support for patients, plant research, better brakes and much more all because of our space program. I for one would have never thought that October evening back in 1957, that because of a glow in the western sky, that someday its beginning could mean the difference in me having better health or not.

Because of our space program, those of us who monitor our blood pressure each day with home blood-pressure kits, have those little units. Independent Science reports that when Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space some 37 years ago, NASA scientists had to invent an automatic measuring device to find out how blasting off affected the astronaut’s blood pressure. The design of the unit that they used to monitor Shepard and future astronauts later became the design blood pressure kits were based on once they went mainstream.

Even the battery-powered socks and boots we enjoy out on the farm are the results of the space program. Those designs came from the Apollo program and we even got heat-absorbing sportswear from astronauts’ spacesuits as well.

If you could look at the progress this country and world has made over the last 54 years and just compare it to progress made in the first 170 years of this country, you would have to give a lot of credit to the space program in how it has accelerated the many things created that has changed our lives. That alone has to give the space program a lot of credit for what it has done for mankind. Just like Neil Armstrong said that July evening in 1969, it has been a very large leap for mankind and hopefully we are not through leaping.



–  Pettus L. Read is editor of Tennessee Home & Farm magazine and Tennessee Farm Bureau News. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com