The successful launch of the unmanned satellite Sputnik I by the Soviet Union in October 1957 shocks and frightens many Americans. As the tiny satellite orbited the earth, Americans reacted with dismay that the Soviets could have gotten so far ahead of the supposedly technologically superior United States. There was also fear that with their new invention, the Soviets had gained the upper hand in the arms race. In addition, such a show of technological prowess could only help the USSR in its efforts to achieve closer economic and political relations with third world nations in Africa and Asia.
Democrats scorched the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower for allowing the United States to fall so far behind the communists. Eisenhower responded by speeding up the U.S. space program, which resulted in the launching of the satellite Explorer I on January 31, 1958. The “space race” had begun.