October 01, 1997

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Last month, on Russia’s School Day, Boris Yeltsin, now 66, announced he would not seek another term as President of Russia. In thus passing the torch to the next generation, Yeltsin’s political career began its slow descent to the year 2000.

Forty years ago, the 26-year-old Boris Yeltsin was working as a construction engineer in Sverdlovsk. His communist party and political careers would not begin for another five years. I mention this simply to provide some historical perspective. For it was forty years ago this month, on October 4, 1957, that the Soviet Union put a beeping, 22-inch, 184-pound sphere – Sputnik – into orbit around the earth. It was the first man-made satellite put into orbit – rushed there by Khrushchev and Korolev to beat the threat of an imminent American launch. One month later, Sputnik II would carry the dog Laika into orbit – the first mammal to live (and die) in space.

Soon after these achievements, the pages of USSR (this magazine’s state-owned predecessor) proclaimed the Sputniks as a symbol of world (and especially Soviet) scientific progress (publishing the drawing at left). “They are a favorable portend for the future,” USSR wrote.

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