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Introduction and Notes on Method It was silver in color, about the size of a beach ball, and weighed a mere 184 pounds (83 kg). Yet for all its simplicity, small size, and inability to do more than orbit the Earth and transmit seemingly meaningless radio blips, the influence of Sputnik on America and the world was enormous and totally unpredicted. The reaction to Sputnik, including early attempts by America to get into orbit, gave rise to a popular new vocabulary within months of its launch on October 4, 1957. The process began the next day when newspapers all over the world proclaimed the dawning of the Space Age, an abstract term rendered real in a matter of 24 hours. Sputnik became a name, a word, and a metaphor overnight. The Russian name for the satellite was Sputnik Zemlyi, a term that means “traveling companion of the world,”or Earth satellite. Almost at once, Sputnik Zemlyi was shortened to Sputnik, and in that form it entered the languages of the world.1 The first syllable of the word was hardly ever pronounced as it would have been in Russian. “Spootnik! Spootnik!”said a Russian woman I interviewed when working on a book on the subject, “Sputt-nick is an American word.” Indeed, it was an American word. “Some new words take years to get into the language,”said lexicographer Clarence L. Barnhart at the time. “She’s a record breaking word.”So sure was he that the day after the launch of Sputnik 1, Barnhart called his printer to dictate a definition, and it was included in the next Thorndike-Barnhart (1958).2 A new subset of English language—called variously space-Speak, Nasan, NASA-speak, or NASAese—was created. It was, to one writer, composed of “a vocabulary as new as fresh paint”that generated more than a score of official and unofficial dictionaries and glossaries during the first decade of the Space Age.3 xi 1. “The News of the Week in Review,”New York Times, November 10, 1957, p. E1. 2. John G. Rogers, “Sputnik Soars into Type in a U.S. Dictionary,”New York Herald Tribune , December 18, 1957, p. 17. 3. William B. Stapleton, “Space Age Sign Language,”Houston Post, July 12, 1964, p. 6. Suddenly, words that had belonged to the worlds of science, aviation, and science fiction were part of the larger language appearing in newspapers and television. The world was learning a host of new proper nouns and names—some of which, like Gemini and Mercury, were ancient allusions while others, like Vanguard and Explorer, evoked visions of adventure and the future. The nature of this high-speed endeavor was such that it created its own newspeak of verbal shortcuts, abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms. In the rush to create a vocabulary to fit the new age of satellites and rocketships, there were lexical glitches—mostly minor and obscured by time. For instance, the hurry to describe the behavior of a satellite led to the use of two t’s in the word orbiting in both official documents and the press.4 With the beginnings of NASA and the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, the process was accelerated. In Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations, Charles D. Benson and William Barnaby Faherty wrote, “Apollo scientists and engineers were establishing a terminology for new things; no one had defined them in the past because such things did not exist—module is an example. As late as 1967, the Random House Dictionary of the English Language gave as the fifth definition of module under computer technology, “A readily interchangeable unit containing electronic components, especially one that may be readily plugged in or detached from a computer system.”The space world was well ahead of the dictionary because, as every American television viewer knew, a module—command, service, or lunar—was a unit of the spacecraft that went to the Moon. As real-live astronauts were introduced into the program, their voices from space and the words spoken by their controllers were heard by millions and their slangy speech flew into the larger language. Things aloft did not just go “according to plan”but were, variously, “A-OK,”“sitting fat,” “tickety-boo,”or “copasetic.” Astronauts “drove” (rather than “piloted”) their spacecraft, and when they did something that was daring and determined, they were given the ultimate accolade: “steely-eyed missile man.”When NASA sent the early astronauts on the road to plump for...


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