Before the Second World War, rocketry and spaceflight seemed as fanciful as
anything out of a Buck Rogers comic strip. But the
technological breakthroughs made by both the Germans and the Allies during WWII
turned what had been a child-like dream into not just a conceivable reality, but
a political priority. With the United States and Soviet Union locked in a
life-or-death struggle for planetary supremacy, it became incumbent upon both
superpowers to use spaceflight
milestones as key instruments of political propaganda.
In the decade's
first half, ex-German rocketeers like Werner von Braun and German
émigré Willy Ley were used to introduce the
American public to the realistic possibilities of manned space flight, their
then-state-of-the-art engineering concepts appearing in everything from Collier's
Magazine to the "Disneyland" TV series.
then, on October 4, 1957, America awoke to learn that what had been "science
fiction" was now science fact: The Soviets had launched
Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite, into orbit.
The Space Age had officially begun.