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Countdown to Sputnik’s 50th Anniversary

Countdown to Sputnik’s 50th Anniversary

UC Riverside scholars are available to comment on the launch of the Soviet satellite, which continues to influence U.S. culture, education and science.

(September 21, 2007)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The Soviet Union’s launch of the first Sputnik satellite on Oct. 4, 1957, caught the United States off-guard. Many Americans feared it wouldn’t be long before the Soviets launched ballistic missiles carrying nuclear bombs. Politicians and press attacked the nation’s educational system for inadequate math and science training. Engineering students flocked to American universities. Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The space race was on, profoundly affecting American education, science and technology, politics and culture.

As the 50th anniversary of that historic event nears, UC Riverside has several faculty members who can speak to those impacts.

Derek Burrill, Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Dance
Email: Derek Burrill

Says Burrill: “The Internet as we know it today is a direct result of the Cold War and the space race. In order to survive a nuclear attack, the U.S. government, universities and the private sector imagined and then built a network system that would withstand an attack and retain its robustness by decentralizing the network. This, in turn has led to countless re-imaginings of how labor, play, communications — even cognition itself — can be non-hierarchical and amorphous in structure and function.” Burrill's expertise and research includes digital media and video games, particularly in relation to theories of the body and masculinity. His book (forthcoming), “Die Tryin’: Videogames, Masculinity, Culture,” inspects the cultural matrix surrounded by and subsumed by digital technologies — and how video games, digital culture and masculinity coalesce to produce a new technological subjectivity for the 21st century.

Pamela Clute, Executive Director, Academy of Learning through Partnerships for Higher Education (ALPHA Center)
Email: Pamela Clute

Clute is a national leader in training future K-12 mathematics and science teachers and in developing math achievement opportunities for middle-school girls, career opportunities in math- and science-related fields for college majors and university academic outreach programs to public schools. She also is an expert in legislative/policy issues related to math and science education. “Without good qualified teachers there will be no competent students to become the future scientists,” Clute says. “Motivation and relevance are the keys to learning.” Clute is known for her efforts to encourage women to study higher mathematics, science, technology and engineering. She has received numerous awards including: the National Science Foundation Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring; the Business Press Leader with Distinction; International Athena Award; Riverside County Mathematics Teachers Association Lifetime Award; and Outstanding Service to Mathematics Education presented by the California Legislature.

Linda Scott Hendrick, Principal Investigator, Copernicus; Academic Administrator & Director, Teacher Development Program, Graduate School of Education
Email: Linda Scott Hendrick

Despite a half-century of greater emphasis on math and science education, many school districts find it tough to recruit enough good instructors to teach those subjects. Hendrick heads UCR’s Copernicus Project, which addresses early identification of future science teachers, systematic recruitment from a diverse pool of candidates, focused teacher preparation beginning at the community college level, and sustained, mentored support of teachers through ongoing professional development. Copernicus project partners cover a broad spectrum of education leaders, K-12 teachers, institutions of higher education, parents and the business community. “The critical need for science teachers across our region, state and country is abundantly clear by many measures,” Hendrick says. “The project's goals reflect what research underscores: that the single most important element in the academic achievement of students is the quality of their teachers.”

Toby Miller, Chair, Department of Media and Cultural Studies
(cell) 917 7512679
Email: Toby Miller

America’s long romance with technology dates back to turning swords into ploughshares. He says, “It was stimulated anew by the space race 50 years ago, and has continued uninterrupted since then — or has it? What about space junk? Discarded cell phones and TVs? Expenditures on communications when people lack safe places to live? This is the time for a spirited public debate over whether we’ve lost our heads in this giddy romance.” Miller has published and lectured extensively about media, sport, labor, gender, race, citizenship, politics and cultural policy. He has been interviewed by numerous national and international media, including CNN, BBC, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. His most recent book is “Cultural Citizenship: Cosmopolitanism, Consumerism, and Television in a Neoliberal Age” (Temple University Press, 2007).

George Slusser, Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus, Curator Emeritus of The Eaton Collection
Email: George Slusser

The “Golden Age” of science fiction literature (1940s-1950s) and its aftermath in the 1960s are interconnected with Sputnik and the space race, Slusser says. “In a sense this is what science fiction is all about.” For more than 25 years Slusser helped build UC Riverside’s internationally known Eaton Collection, the world’s largest publicly-accessible collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and utopian fiction. It is the major resource for research in science fiction, fantasy, horror and utopian literature worldwide and includes works in Chinese, Czech, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian and Spanish. The collection consists of nearly 100,000 hardback and paperback books, nearly 300,000 fanzines, as well as pulp magazines, film and visual material, comic books, and ephemera. Slusser is available to talk about the impact of the space race on science-fiction literature and about the Eaton Collection. The collection will be a ready resource for students enrolling in the university’s new Ph.D. program in science fiction literature, which launches this fall in the Department of Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages.

Gary Zank, UCR Chancellor's Professor of Physics
Email: Gary Zank

Zank can offer a physicist’s perspective on how Sputnik changed space exploration and ushered in the space race. He is the systemwide director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, a leading multicampus center of the University of California dedicated to research in a variety of disciplines including experimental and theoretical space science, particle physics, astrophysics, Earth and planetary sciences, astrobiology and ocean/atmospheric sciences. A specialist in the study of plasma astrophysics and space physics, Zank is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The recipient of several awards, including the Zeldovich Medal and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, he is the author or coauthor of more than 250 scientific articles.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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