Sputnik moment

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A model of Sputnik 1 at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., USA


A reference to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite Sputnik 1 which caught the USA unprepared. The event ignited the Space Race during the Cold War, and led to the USA successfully completing a human landing on the Moon in 1969.


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈspʊtnɪk ˈməʊmənt/, /ˈspʌtnɪk ˈməʊmənt/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˈspʊtnɪk ˈmoʊmənt/, /ˈspʌtnɪk ˈmoʊmənt/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: Sput‧nik mo‧ment


Sputnik moment (plural Sputnik moments)

  1. The moment when a country or a society realizes that it needs to catch up with apparent technological and scientific developments made by some other country or countries by increasing its investment into education, innovative research and development, etc.
    • 2004 June 22, Rush Holt, Suggested Remarks for Rep. Rush Holt: Is American Security Being Lost in Translation?[1], National Language Conference, U.S. Department of Defence, archived from the original on 27 December 2008, page 4:
      Immediately after September 11, 2001, Americans found themselves again facing a Sputnik moment. They realized that they were caught flat-footed, unprepared to confront Al Qaeda terrorists.
    • 2005 May 25, Robert J. Samuelson, “Sputnik Scare, Updated”, in Washington Post[2]:
      Americans are having another Sputnik moment: one of those periodic alarms about some foreign technological and economic menace. It was the Soviets in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Germans and the Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, and now it's the Chinese and the Indians
    • 2011 January 5, Barack Obama, Jon Favreau, speechwriter, “Remarks by the President in State of Union Address”, in White House Office of the Press Secretary, WhiteHouse.gov[3], archived from the original on 6 May 2016:
      Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn't even there yet. NASA didn't exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.
    • 2011 June 11, Claire Cain Miller, “Computer studies made cool, on film and now on campus”, in The New York Times[4], archived from the original on 11 June 2011:
      "It's a national call, a Sputnik moment," said Mehran Sahami, associate chairman for computer science education at Stanford, referring to the Soviet satellite launching in 1957 that pushed the United States into the space race.