Remembering Sputnik

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr was the Moscow correspondent for CBS during the time of the Sputnik launch. He remembers the day.

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DANIEL SCHORR: I was reporting for CBS News from Moscow when the Russians launched their Sputnik.

JAMES HATTORI, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: It's hard to imagine but most people alive today had not been born when the Russians put their little vehicle into orbit and startled the world.

Things were quiet in Moscow in early October in 1957. Nikita Khrushchev and most of the Polit Bureau were on vacation. And then, at 6 a.m. on October 5th, Radio Moscow proclaimed that the first ever artificial satellite had been launched the day before and it was visible to the naked eye on a clear night, and that it was emitting a beeping signal that you could hear on a radio.

The Soviet news agency TASS stressed that Sputnik was crossing over America seven times a day. The Soviet press portrayed Sputnik as a peaceful scientific venture. But it didn't take much imagination to conjure up a Russian military satellite that could carry a lethal payload down from space.

Pravda said that Sputnik should impress upon the United States - that's the Eisenhower administration - the need for peaceful coexistence ending the Cold War and stopping the arms race.

I recall being struck by how average Russians reacted. Many lined up at newspaper bulletin boards to get the latest word on the satellite. They spoke in terms of pride in their government, which was rare for Soviet citizens. Their communist government went all out to exploit its propaganda advantage over capitalist America.

Pravda proclaims Sputnik a victory of a Soviet man with his Bolshevik boldness and clearness of purpose, determination and energy. A confident Nikita Khrushchev told me that the Soviets were willing to put satellites and missiles under international control but only as part of a comprehensive arms control agreement.

One personal note, I had met Khrushchev at many receptions and on foreign trips. In fact, I had to interview him earlier that year for CBS' "Face the Nation," where I circulated among his entourage on the trip to Austria. He pointed to me and said, there is correspondent Schorr - my Sputnik.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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