Friday, October 05, 2007

Sputnik is 50

Posted by goatchurch at 3:11 PM
The fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1 passed me by yesterday, October 4. Those backward Commie rats with their totalitarian Soviet state and lack of free enterprise had beaten the United States into space. Being impossible to reconcile the proof that the phenomenon of twentieth century technology was independent of the American economic system, it's been quietly ignored. This important anniversary was only brought to my attention by Democracy Now in the following interview:
AMY GOODMAN: Fifty years ago tomorrow, Sputnik -- what does that have to do with today?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, the official storyline is that the US went from humiliation, with the Soviet launch of Sputnik fifty years ago, to triumph, man on the moon in '69, technological superlatives ever since.

But there's a shadowy side, a terribly damaging and destructive shadowy side, which many people in the United States and around the world have been subjected to, and that is the hijacking and the channeling of technological expertise and scientific research in billions of dollars for purposes of what Dwight Eisenhower called in '61 the "military-industrial complex" and, in a less well-known phrase in his farewell address in '61, a "scientific technological elite." That elite is sending 2,000-pound bombs into urban areas of Iraq. It is not only paying off outfits like Blackwater to, out of sight and often out of mind, slaughter Iraqi people in our names and with our tax dollars, but also pursuing missions that are very far from the official storyline.

And so, you could say, just as Sputnik was said to have launched a trajectory of US technological expertise, Silicon Valley and all the rest of it, we have the underside of what we could call a political culture of hoax that has counter-pointed all of the rhetoric about democracy and scientific progress with what Martin Luther King called in 1967 a dynamic of "guided missiles and misguided men," of using our talents of our country, our resources, our scientific brilliance, for purposes of enriching a few and building a warfare state, which is part of us every moment.
Is Science Fiction, as it has been practiced throughout this period, part of it? Maybe it's not harmless. Perhaps if it wasn't developed as it was, our highly expert engineers couldn't have devoted their entire lives spending Six Trillion Dollars just on atomic mechanisms to destroy cities on the other side of the globe? Just think if it had occurred to them that there were better things to do.

There seems to be a cultural expression going on today with posters all over London advertising a computer game Halo 3 If you went around the streets with your eyes open and you didn't know what was going on you'd be completely freaked out by these images. Maybe there is a small part of our mind that doesn't fully make the distinction between the all pervasive narrative of Science Fiction, and real life, and Believes. What would be the result?

Maybe it's time we insisted on reality getting back into Science Fiction before this story kills us.

I look forward to all the 50th anniversaries of American space technological triumphs being noted in the media soon. It should be interesting.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jetse de Vries said...

>>>>Being impossible to reconcile the proof that the phenomenon of twentieth century technology was independent of the American economic system, it's been quietly ignored.<<<<

Ehrm...

It was one of the main articles in the September 8 issue of New Scientist, and is currently a featured as a comepetition on the New Scientist website here: http://space.newscientist.com/competition.ns?pg=sputnik0710&DCMP=EMC-Mkt_Sputnik_int .

Americans may have disregarded it, but not the Brits of New Scientist.

10/06/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Jetse de Vries said...

Sputnik's 50th Anniversary is also a main article in the current issue of Scientific American (to which I do not subscribe, but might), see here: http://www.sciam.com/issue.cfm .

The main media on both sides of the Atlantic may hardly mention it, but both scientific magazines do.

10/06/2007 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger goatchurch said...

Oh sure, you can mention it in a quiz or an intro paragraph, and then quietly ignore it. Where are the stories about how the scientists and engineers somehow put this together while living under the rigours of Stalinist Russia? I'm sure there's lots to tell us about how technology happens.

The Sci-Am article you referred to is three paragraphs long, gave a glowing prognosis for the future plans of NASA and heaped praise on its global warming denier administrator Michael Griffin.

I should subscribe to this magazine because it's excellent. Presently I only get the podcast where they mentioned Sputnik, before quickly adding, "So, ah, that's the past. But this special section is concentrating on the future."

Have I missed something?

10/10/2007 03:19:00 AM  
Blogger Monte Davis said...

Solomon has it backwards: the space race was possible (and progressed so rapidly) because the USSR and US had already done most of the R&D heavy lifting -- big rocket engines, avionics, tracking, re-entry technologies -- as part of developing ICBMs and then spy satellites (the latter wanted for many reasons, but most urgently to check on the ICBMs). Several Apollo budgets on each side had been committed to that before 4 Oct 1957.

If we hadn't wanted to blow things up quickly from far away, we might still be waiting for scientific and/or commercial motives to drive all that R&D and launch the first satellite.

Some people feel that heritage taints all space activity (I don't)... but to suggest that Sputnik et seq. and its repercussions initiated or drove the military-industrial complex, rather than spinning off from it, is to mistake the tail for the dog.

10/16/2007 07:29:00 AM  

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