On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first space satellite. Only the size of a basketball, Sputnik caught the Eisenhower administration utterly unprepared, and they dismissed its importance. Soon, however, the public reaction forced Washington to take Sputnik seriously. The ever-hawkish and influential scientist Edward Teller called it a "technological Pearl Harbor." Life published "Arguing the Case for Being Panicky." A month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik II, carrying the dog Laika, while the United States scurried frantically to put together a working rocket system. In January 1958 the United States launched the satellite Explorer.
The Sputnik launches, it turns out, were the greatest postwar boon for American scientific research, as the United States entered the space race. ARPA and NASA, funded to the tune of billions of dollars, were created for the express purpose of competing in space. Vannevar Bush called the expediture absurd, but by capturing a nation's imagination, the space program propelled American science and technology for decades to come.
In the summer of 1969, the NASA program to fulfill JFK's pledge to put a man on the moon succeeded, when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong set foot on the Sea of Tranquility while Collins orbited overhead.