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Saturday, April 17, 2021

How America’s ‘Sputnik Apologists’ Fought to Stop the ‘Second Coming’

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In the early 1960s, the United States launched Sputnik into orbit, a pioneer feat for a nation that had never sent anything into space before. That was too much for several Americans who worried that the successes at the first U.S. satellite launch were not being replicated. They formed a group known as the “Harvard Apollo Class.”

It is worth pausing over the words “first in space,” because a more accurate slogan for the first U.S. astronauts would have been “first in morality.” The early astronauts were among the nation’s most privileged, most educated, most conservative, most capitalist and most emotionally stunted, and often possessed no idea of how to behave in the public eye.

William Souder’s latest book is a wickedly funny study of these ill-prepared, hypocritical pixies of Johnsonville who could not fathom the idea of many innocent humans dying when they traveled into space. Their absolutism about space has pervaded the rest of the nation, which has only a trickle of humanity in it.

A group of young people was doing some public service in New York in June 1966 when they saw the secret launch of Sputnik — the “Second Coming,” they thought.

They formed a committee with a mandate to halt that launch as a way to reclaim an imperial space. They wanted nothing for themselves — they just wanted to stop Sputnik.

The ideas were crude and at times patronizing. One committee member wanted a slogan — “Mankind is mad at the world.”

The “Second Coming” of the committee would not be missed, Souder writes.

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