In 1957, the nation was thrown into a state of panic. Our Cold War enemies had launched a rocket that was capable of destroying a good portion of the East Coast; the rocket sent a satellite into orbit that was emitting a series of undecipherable radio signals back to Earth. This was all done in secret, and Americans were left gaping at the heavens with no technology to compete with the Russians. As David Hoffman’s thrilling documentary shows, Sputnik launched us not only into the Space Race but the Arms Race as well.
Using archival and declassified footage, Hoffman shows America’s collective progression from awe to shame to fear after the launch of Sputnik, and the subsequent events that had us rushing to build a satellite alongside massive atomic weapons. Movies, pop songs, and PSAs from the Eisenhower Era reveal the nation’s terror and wounded pride. The doc plays like a science-fiction thriller, losing its fast grip on the audience only toward the end of its 87 missile-paced minutes. The film’s implications for current international affairs are apparent, but the message isn’t force-fed. The insightful and entertaining Sputnik Mania reveals little-discussed truths about the U.S. entrance into the Space Age and the realities of life in Cold War America.