On October 5, 1957, the first man-made object in space passed over Coalwood. This, of course, was the Soviet-built Sputnik satalite. Sputnik was little more than a beachball-sized satellite that sent out an easily detectable series of radio-pulses, but its very existence caused a global stir.
The launch of Sputnik caught most of the world by surprise, particularly the United States. People reacted in different ways. The reactions we hear from the residents of Coalwood were pretty representative of Americans in general. Some feared that this technological break-through meant that the Soviets now had the ability to attack from outer space, or at the very least spy on their enemies with satellites. Others were simply embarrassed that the Soviets achieved spaceflight first. For Homer and his friends, it inspired them to launch rockets of their own.
Technology over the next decade would be partially defined by the space race. This was the contest in which the United States and the Soviet Union competed to make the most advances in rocket and orbital technology. Homer, inspired by watching a tiny Russian satellite streak across the night sky, would eventually become one of the leaders in this endeavor.