Thursday, October 04, 2007

By 8 pm it was dark outside, on that autumn night in western Pennsylvania. At the end of a long, multi-jointed arm, a green-shaded lamp focused light on the surface of the heavy, dark-grained wood desk, a hand-me-down undoubtedly older than I was. The rest of my room was in shadow.

I often had my radio on while I did my homework—a supposed shortwave set with a slate gray face and exposed, glowing tubes in the back, that sat on the bookshelf above and to the right of my desk, next to the globe. My father had put the radio together from a kit, and despite its impressive dials it seldom pulled in more than the local AM station. But for some reason the radio was off. I was absorbed in my homework, and I didn’t even notice the hum and murmur of the television set on the other side of the far wall, in the living room, where my parents were watching.

So when my bedroom door flew open I was startled. My father leaned in, and asked me if I’d been listening to the radio. I said “no” defensively, but he wasn’t checking on my homework diligence. He said the Russians had launched a satellite into space. It was orbiting the earth right now. They’d just announced it on television, and broadcast the actual sounds coming from the satellite. It was called Sputnik.

At my desk I turned on my radio, which eventually played the eerie, even- toned beeping sounds from space. I was stunned.

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