On October 7, 1957, the Space Age officially began. The USSR had sent a satellite, "Sputnik", into orbit around Earth. The journey lasted less than 100 minutes, but it was a landmark occasion nonetheless and the Soviet Union had sent a message to the capitalist world. Aboard Sputnik was a radio transmitter which allowed Soviet scientists to track it as it orbited the Earth. This signal could be heard on radios around the world, and millions tuned in to hear the "beep" which was a gesture of Soviet power. The success of Sputnik sent fear into the heart of America, as with it came the very real possibility of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile attack and mutually assured destruction.
The USA was jolted into action and immediately stepped up its own space-exploration program. However, less than a month later, before America could make any significant progress, the Soviets sent a second satellite into orbit, but this time it had a passenger. Laika the dog survived for 10 days in space (before oxygen supply ran out), proving that living beings could be sent into space. Laika captured the hearts of people the world over, and in the public eye the USSR had taken a seemingly unassailable lead in the "Space Race".
More embarrassment was to follow for the USA: their first attempt to launch a satellite into orbit ended in dismal failure. "Vanguard" exploded on the launch pad and was dubbed "Flopnik" and "Stay-putnik" by the world's media. The following month, the US successfully sent Explorer 1 into orbit and this was quickly followed by Explorer 2 and 3. Later that year, Eisenhower commissioned the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to co-ordinate America's space efforts. However, the failure of Vanguard was still fresh in the minds of many, and the huge public success of the Soviet space program meant that the USA's advances came too late to change public opinion: the perception of a technology gap in favour of the Soviet Union had been established.