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Digital Universe: The Global Telecommunication Revolution by Peter B. Seel

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4

Origins of the Internet

Foundations

The global Internet as we know it today started out with a very different mission and illustrates the law of unintended consequences discussed in Chapter 3. The foundation for its creation was the launch into Earth orbit of the USSR's Sputnik I satellite on October 4, 1957. It is remarkable that a machine the size of a basketball orbiting the Earth every 98 minutes had such a significant effect on the Cold War and the future of telecommunication.1 One month later, Soviet scientists and engineers launched Sputnik II with a dog aboard as a passenger. At this point the Russians clearly had a major lead in the global race into space.

With the demise of the USSR in 1991, it is difficult for those born after that date to appreciate the fear the Sputnik launch created among American citizens during the 1950s. The Cold War was in deep-freeze mode after the Korean conflict, and the fact that the Russians were orbiting a tiny spacecraft over the United States was an intimidating development to many Americans. The era was characterized by the rapid deployment by the United States and the USSR of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) topped with unfathomably powerful thermonuclear weapons. The prospect of war using these doomsday technologies was very troubling to President (and former general) Dwight Eisenhower and the US Congress. The Sputnik launch ...

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