What Goes Up …Remembering Sputnik

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Edwin Diamond and Stephen Bates’s remembrance of Sputnik (October) was a real attention-getter for me, as I believe I was the unwitting reason for that “hostile” Eisenhower press conference! When Sputnik first went aloft, I was chief of public affairs for the brand-new NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I spent all day on the phone fielding media inquiries about its military significance. It seemed so logical, I winged it in lieu of official guidance and was saying, “If the Soviets have the propulsion capability to orbit something like this one hundred and eighty miles over our heads today, why not on our heads tomorrow?” After about four hours of this, the Pentagon press desk was on my phone in some agitation, and I was asked, “What in the hell are you saying out there?”

I told the caller, and he said, “Well, shut the hell up. The White House says it has no military significance!” Over time, and a few billion dollars later on aerospace defense, it seems to me my assessment wasn’t all that bad.