By the Beach in Florida, in 1957

Dec 6, 1957: Vanguard-TV3, three feet up, still 656,165 to go before reaching orbit…

Ponderously it lifted itself off the pad—one foot, two feet, three feet. For one blink of an eye it seemed to stand still. A tongue of orange flame shot out from beneath the rocket, darted downwind, then billowed up the right side of TV3 into a fireball 150 feet high. “There it goes! There is an explosion!” an observation pilot cried into his radio

News of the failure of TV3 was flashed out around the nation and the world. Impact: shock, scorn, derision. Almost instantly the U.S.’s tiny, grounded satellite got rechristened stallnik, flopnik, dudnik, puffnik, phutnik, oopsnik, goofnik, kaputnik and—closer to the Soviet original—sputternik. At the U.N., Soviet diplomats laughingly suggested that the U.S. ought to try for Soviet technical assistance to backward nations. An office worker in Washington burst into tears; a calypso singer on the BBC in London strummed a ditty about Oh, from America comes the significant thought/Their own little Sputnik won’t go off. Said a university professor in Pittsburgh: “It’s our worst humiliation since Custer’s last stand.” Said Dr. John P. Hagen, director of Project Vanguard, as he got ready to face a doleful press conference in Washington: “Nuts.