Tomorrow, October 4th, is the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first artificial satellite into Earth's orbit. While our 20/20 hindsight shows that this bold action had a cathartic effect on the American space program -- and the technical evolutions that accompany richly funded research programs -- the first official report of the launch "was buried deep inside Pravda" and elicited little more than a knowing yawn from Premier Khrushchev that Soviet technical preeminence was intact.  Only later, after receiving heaps of praise from foreign nations, did Pravda provide a banner headline.
What was essentially a brash gamble by a daring Chief Scientist Sergei Korolyov (whose identity remained a closely-held state secret until his death nearly ten years later) shifted the Cold War arms race into a higher gear and sowed the seeds for America's current technical prowess. In fact, Korolyov was so convinced the Americans were on the brink of their own launch that he dramatically accelerated his program's schedule. Hence the name "Prosteishiy Sputnik" -- "The Simplest Satellite".
Think about it: just a scant 50 years ago, there was only one satellite orbiting Earth (and that one wasn't man-made). Imagine what the next 50 could have in store for us....