In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first manmade satellite to be sent into orbit. The Space Age had begun with a bang—and America was caught completely off guard, scrambling to catch up to our Cold War foes.
Sputnik Mania looks back at those days with expertly used archival footage, along with contemporary interviews and even-keeled narration from Liev Schreiber. While the Sputnik satellite was seemingly benign—it didn't actually do anything—it eerily floated directly over America, putting fear into the hearts of our country's citizens.
It wasn't the presence of the 180-pound satellite itself that represented the US's greatest fear—it was the satellite's dimensions, which meant that the rocket used to launch it would have been powerful enough to send a missile from the USSR to America. The two countries quickly thrust themselves into an un-winnable race of who could build the most and deadliest firepower. The footage of the numerous bomb tests performed by both Soviets and Americans is unspeakably spooky, as is the footage of the dog Laika that the Soviets put inside the second Sputnik satellite to be the first living thing sent into space. (There were no provisions onboard, and no method of maintaining oxygen. Laika swiftly died.)
What's interesting is how President Eisenhower emerges as the true hero of Sputnik Mania. The former military officer recognized the danger in escalating the arms race to these previously unseen proportions, and it was a viewpoint he shared with Russia's Premier Krushchev. Filmmaker David Hoffman keeps the resultant drama easy to follow, with enough detail to capture the zeitgeist of the era—allowing Sputnik Mania to surpass its History Channel subject matter to become a sweeping, insightful look back at a pivotal moment in history. It's impossible not to get caught up in it.