The space age began fifty years ago with the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, on October 4, 1957. It was a great technical and political triumph for the Soviet Union. In the United States, the immediate reaction was a swift and harsh self-assessment marked by very public fretting about a “technology gap.” But a dozen years later, at the climax of the space race, the first men on the Moon were Americans. In the decades since, the civilian space program has largely receded from public attention — even as space has become indispensable to the military and the high-tech industry, and as a promising new private space sector is just taking shape.
To mark the Sputnik anniversary — and with it, the beginning of the space age — we have reprinted Hannah Arendt’s classic 1963 essay about modern science and the human meaning of our celestial aspirations, and invited five commentators to respond to her argument and to discuss its relevance today: Patrick J. Deneen, Rita Koganzon, Charles T. Rubin, Stephen Bertman, and Peter Augustine Lawler.