Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium commemorates Sputnik 50th anniversary

When the world awakened on October 4, 1957 it was no longer the same. A new 97 pound man-made moon encircled our globe every 93 minutes. A new space age began that day.

This event added a new component to the arsenal of weaponry fueling the Cold War already in progress and running in high gear. The socialist countries were jubilant! The West was shocked and petrified.

What was perceived as a technologically backward state had overtaken the highest industrialized, technically advanced, country in exploring space.

The Adler Planetarium commemorated this event at the Northwestern University Thorne Auditorium in Chicago on October 4, 2007. Hosted by Adler president Paul H. Knappenberger, Dr. Sergei N. Khrushchev and Dr. Roger D. Launius, elaborated on the historic impact of Sputnik on the US – Soviet Space Race and Space exploration.

After Sputnik’s success, according to Dr. Launius, billions of dollars were pumped into the newly established NASA, headed by German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. Finally, on January 31, 1958 NASA launched the 31 pound “Explorer I” on a modified WW II V-2 rocket. Explorer I made its journey into orbit.

Dr. Khrushchev, who explained that all German scientists were released from prison, minimized the contribution by German rocket scientists toward the Soviet space exploration. The release of German scientists was a result of an agreement made in September 1955, between his father Nikita S. Khrushchev, then head of state of the Soviet Union and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

Although in 1945 the Red Army captured Peenemünde, the German equivalent of Cape Canaveral, only one V-2 rocket was confiscated. However, more importantly, V-2 engineering documentation had fallen into Soviet hands as well as American hands.

The highlight of space exploration was achieved less than four years after Sputnik on April 12, 1961, with the successful launch of Yuri Gagarin, the first man into space. The achievement was the result of the powerful N-1 rocket designed by Sergei Korelev.

But the ultimate space race to the finish line occurred on July 20,1969. Mankind’s dream became reality, when America’s Saturn V rocket brought Neil Armstrong, to walk on the surface of the moon.

Since Sputnik’s 1961 modest appearance till to day, 460 men and women from nearly three dozens of countries, executed 267 trips into orbit.


Standing with Sputnik’s image in background are: Rotarian Graham Hills, Rotary Club of Des Plaines President Sharon Lynch, Cold War Historian Werner I. Juretzko, and Cold War Museum member Robert Schubert.


Robert J. Schubert, Cold War Museum member, Paul H. Knappenberger, President, The Adler Planetarium, Werner I. Juretzko, Cold War Museum, European Affairs, Dr. Sergei N. Khrushchev, Dr. Roger D. Launius, Curator- National Air and Space Museum and Heinz Franz, Cold War Museum member.