October 4, 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first man-made object ever to leave the atmosphere and successfully orbit the earth. Throughout the world, events are being planned to celebrate the "Sputnik Year," which begins on the anniversary and runs through December 31, 2008. As part of that celebration, SPUTNIK MANIA tells the satellite's story from America's point of view.
Like today, 1957 was a time of fear. In place of Al Qaeda, dirty bombs, and the war in Iraq, there were the Soviets, hydrogen bombs, and the Cold War. The world's two superpowers were hell-bent on beating one another by any means necessary. It was also a time of political wrangling, with a popular president under attack for not being strong enough on Communism.
The film leads us through the first year following the launch of Sputnik. In 1958, a nuclear weapon was tested in the atmosphere by either Russia or the United States every three days. By the end of that year, nothing was the same. Sputnik spurred us into an arms and space race, necessitating the creation of an academic army of scientists and engineers. This led to the development of NASA, massive reforms in our education system, and the discoveries that enabled many of the consumer technologies on which we depend today (The Internet, cell phones, global positioning systems, credit card verifications and high-definition televisions). The launch of Sputnik also led to widespread panic, fear and anxiety as leading politicians and the media whipped the public into an escalating mass frenzy - only months after Sputnik's launch, 60% of Americans thought that nuclear war was imminent and that 50% of the American population would likely die (Gallup Poll, April 1958).
With our education system again in dire need of reform, the renewed focus on nuclear testing, and NASA's plans to build a moon base by 2024, the cosmic frontier has reopened to a new generation of scientists, engineers, and soldiers. As the film's epilogue asks: what will be our next "Sputnik moment" -- the event that drives us to address these and other challenges?
SPUTNIK MANIA is based on Paul Dickson's bestselling book Sputnik: The Shock of the Century. The filmmaker, David Hoffman, has 40 years of movie-making experience, including over one hundred television specials and four feature documentaries. Actor Liev Schreiber narrates the film with his dramatic and instantly recognizable style of storytelling.
Many key players of the Sputnik era supported the production of SPUTNIK MANIA. Russian representatives, NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the National Education Association, NPR's Daniel Schorr, and Homer Hickam of Rocket Boys fame among others contribute to the film with short clips dramatically telling their stories.
SPUTNIK MANIA sings an uncannily prophetic song of the past to the tune of the present. It tells a story of great relevance to issues facing the 21st century.
Commenting on the geo-political atmosphere of the day, SPUTNIK MANIA offers a great opportunity to frame some important conversations pertaining to:
- International relations and American foreign policy;
- the march of science and technology;
- the impact on children/youth and implications for our school curriculum;
- the collective response to 9/11;
- the role of the media and fear; and
- American politics and the importance of remembering our history