History� Examines Dawn of the Space Age... SPUTNIK MANIA
Premieres Saturday, November 29 at 10:00 pm ET/PT
SPUTNIK MANIA Features Long-lost footage and newly declassified information that shows awe and fear Americans felt following Soviet launch
New York, NY, November 11, 2008 � A little over fifty years ago, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into space. The shock waves from that event continue to this day. Sputnik Mania, premiering Saturday, November 29 at 10:00 pm ET/PT on History�, tells the whole story of the launch of Sputnik and what happened to America during the following year. It presents not only previously lost footage from the 1950�s, but also an extraordinary collection of interviews and recently declassified insights into the high-level decisions that followed the dawn of the space age.
The launch of Sputnik initially thrilled Americans. But within a surprisingly short time, that enthusiasm descended into fear and anxiety as politicians and the media whipped the public into a frenzy over Sputnik and the rocket that launched it -- a rocket that could easily have been used as a Soviet ICBM missile attacking our cities. Then-Senator Lyndon Johnson compared Sputnik to another Pearl Harbor. Only months after Sputnik�s launch, 60% of Americans thought that nuclear war was imminent and that 50% of the American population would likely die (Gallup Poll, April 1958). Throughout 1958, as tensions escalated, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. between them tested a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere every three days. Americans were told by government leaders to build personal bomb shelters and stockpile emergency supplies. By June 10, 1958, with America�s first satellite also in space, tens of millions participated in a nationwide underground civil defense drill.
Created by veteran filmmaker David Hoffman, who pored through thousands of hours of archival footage, Sputnik Mania contains a wealth of forgotten scenes, news accounts and recent interviews. Sputnik Mania includes historic clips of: Soviets building the first rockets and satellites; reactions from television and radio newscasts; people scanning the night sky in awe and fear; then-Major John Glenn on a quiz show just 3 hours after the launch of Sputnik, discussing the satellite four years before he became the first American to orbit the earth; American schoolchildren building their own rockets; coverage of the dog Laika, the first living creature to reach space from Earth, and reaction as the world realized that the dog was sent to its death; shots of Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi scientist whose rockets gave America a fighting chance in the space race; religious leaders predicting the Second Coming or the end of the world; and Americans building bomb shelters, donning gas masks and preparing for nuclear war amidst the general fear surrounding the launch.
Sputnik Mania provides an in-depth look at the tensions between President Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. It follows their diplomatic relations in the midst of Sputnik-fueled concerns over a growing nuclear arms race and pressures from the militaries of both nations to militarize space.
The launch of Sputnik also galvanized nearly all aspects of American culture. Along with the shock and fear was a determination to conquer the heavens ourselves. Science became patriotic, with an urgency only seen before in wartime. In the shadow of Sputnik, technology and engineering received a massive infusion of funding, and our national priorities were upended. The modern age had truly begun, and America was not going to come in second.
Sputnik Mania is based on the book Sputnik: The Shock of the Century (Walker & Co., May 2007) by Paul Dickson. In the last ten years, an incredible amount of previously secret material has been declassified and made public. Dickson relied on these newly available documents to more deeply understand the events around Sputnik.
Sputnik Mania is produced by Varied Directions. Executive Producer for History is David McKillop.
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