Obama's Past Sputnik Moments

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Hillary Clinton referenced Sputnik repeatedly in her stump speeches during 2007 and 2008, and after Obama won the nomination, it started appearing in his remarks as well:

SOTU_bug.gifHere's this from an event in Flint, MI on 6/16/08

"Now, reforming our education system will require sustained effort from all of us: parents and teachers, federal, state and local governments. The same is true for the second leg of our competitiveness agenda, and that's a bold and sustainable energy policy.

You know, in the past, America has been stirred to action when a new challenge threatened our national security. That was true when German and Japanese armies advanced across Europe and Asia or when the Soviets launched Sputnik. The energy threat we face today may be less direct, but it is real. Our dependence on foreign oil strains family budgets, and it saps our economy. Oil money pays for the bombs going off from Baghdad to Beirut and the bombast of dictators from Caracas to Tehran."

Also, here's a more clear Sputnik moment mention from April, 2009:

"When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik a little more than a half century ago, Americans were stunned. The Russians had beaten us to space. And we had to make a choice: We could accept defeat or we could accept the challenge. And as always, we chose to accept the challenge.

President Eisenhower signed legislation to create NASA and to invest in science and math education, from grade school to graduate school. And just a few years later, a month after his address to the 1961 Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, President Kennedy boldly declared before a joint session of Congress that the United States would send a man to the moon and return him safely to the Earth.

The scientific community rallied behind this goal and set about achieving it. And it would not only lead to those first steps on the moon; it would lead to giant leaps in our understanding here at home. That Apollo program produced technologies that have improved kidney dialysis and water purification systems; sensors to test for hazardous gasses; energy-saving building materials; fire-resistant fabrics used by firefighters and soldiers. More broadly, the enormous investment in that era -- in science and technology, in education and research funding -- produced a great outpouring of curiosity and creativity, the benefits of which have been incalculable. There are those of you in this audience who became scientists because of that commitment. We have to replicate that.

There will be no single Sputnik moment for this generation's challenges to break our dependence on fossil fuels. In many ways, this makes the challenge even tougher to solve -- and makes it all the more important to keep our eyes fixed on the work ahead."
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Rachael Brown is a writer and analyst for Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. A former Atlantic editor, she has written for The Guardian and Smithsonian.com, among other outlets. She is also a former public high school teacher.

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