What significant event took place on October 5, 1957? How did that event affect the people from Coalwood?

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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.

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On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union began the space race by launching the satellite Sputnik. The next day, it orbited over the continental United States. In October Sky, the movie based on Sputnik's launch, the residents of Coalwood went out and watched it from their yards and wondered what it meant. This was during the height of the Cold War, and some people thought the Soviet Union could drop nuclear bombs from the satellite. Others wondered why the Soviets were able to launch something into space that America could not do yet.  

In the movie, the launch of the Soviet satellite made the boys work harder on their own rocket plans and inspired them to make aeronautical science their future careers. In the America of that time period, politicians spent more money on science and technology in an effort to beat the Soviets. Sending an American into space and putting a man on the Moon became an American priority. John F. Kennedy was able to harness this spirit in his inaugural address when he promised an American would walk on the Moon before the end of the 1960s.

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