The Space Race and Echo
The “Space Race” was the result of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. The first major event in this deadly serious competition for dominance in space came on October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, into orbit around the Earth.
The launch of Sputnik rattled the American public; President Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to it as the “Sputnik Crisis” because it implied that the Soviets were far ahead in the rocket technology necessary to fire nuclear warheads at an enemy, i.e., the United States.
The United States, desperate to show the world that it was indeed a major force in the space race, and not very far behind Russia, launched its first satellite, Echo, into orbit around the Earth on August 12, 1960.
Echo was basically an enormous plastic balloon with a “metalized’ coating to help it act as a passive reflector of microwave signals sent from Earth. Communication signals were bounced off the satellite from one point on Earth to another.
Echo was as tall as a 10-story building, but weighed only 150 pounds.
The government also claimed that Echo provided the astronomical reference points required to accurately locate Moscow. This would allegedly improve accuracy for the US military for the purpose of targeting intercontinental ballistic missiles at Russia.