Thursday, October 04, 2007


It was October 4, 1957, and the Very Young Elisson woke up and eagerly got out of bed. Today was special. Today was his fifth birthday! And uniquely among his Early Birthdays, half a century hence he would, for no reason in particular, retain very clear memories of that morning.

Many other people retain clear memories of that morning as well, long ago as it was, as it was indeed an Historic Day...for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with that five-year-old boy. For it was the very day that the United States came face to face with the horrifying realization that the Soviet Union, their mortal enemy in the grinding Cold War and source of 98% of the Communists that seemed to lurk under every bed, had made a decisive, bold step forward in claiming the shadowy reaches of Outer Space for their own.

It was a realization that sank in with every beep - beep - beep that floated through the ether...mysterious radio pings emitted by the first Artificial Earth Satellite.

A satellite that the Russians had built and successfully placed in Earth orbit.


Sputnik! Good Gawd, the name itself shrieked Ruuuuuuusskis!

“If they could put a satellite up there, what would they put up there next?” went the popular refrain. Hydrogen bombs? We’re all gonna DIE!!!

Ostensibly, the Russians had sent the little silver ball aloft to study how radio waves interacted with the ionosphere...important information for any future space travel. But it didn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure out that a rocket capable of sending a Sputnik into orbit could also lob nuclear weapons over the ocean. The Soviets had demonstrated, with calculated innocence, the first ICBM.

Our nation collectively Shat a Peach Pit, and the Space Race was under way. And I can tell you here and now that had you said to your friends and neighbors back then that within less than a dozen years, men would walk upon the Moon, they would have laughed in your face. And had you told them that those men would be Americans, they would have clapped you in the nearest Mental Health Facility, there to have your sick, stupid fantasies cleared away from your brain-pan by massive doses of electroshock therapy.

But what did I know? I was five, just having completed my first month of kindergarten. Life was sweet. And, Esteemed Readers, it still is, half a century later.

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