An excerpt from Post-Modem: The Interwebs Explained, which is released on Tuesday, November 17, 2015. From Chapter 5, “The Post-War Interweb”:
Preferring instead to call it a “space race,” the Soviet Union then attempted to soothe strained relations with the United States by sending up a considerably more humorous satellite, in keeping with their desire to create memorable events for those most starving and freezing to death. The following month, they launched Sputnik 2, with an angle toward cuteness – this time they included an adorable dog named Laika, whose presence aboard Sputnik 2 caused a great deal of controversy. While one camp had hoped for a kitten named Mitsa (Russian for “mittens”) to be the world’s first living being to orbit the Earth, Khrushchev insisted that a cat would be too difficult to shove in a space capsule, given their wily nature and sharp claws, and so the issue was decided.
Though Russian telecasts featuring pictures of Laika contained adorable captions such as, “Where is today’s copy of Pravda?” and, over pictures of a yawning Laika, “I am a space monster, fear my wrath!” the flames were merely fanned between the two passive-aggressively warring nations. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. launched Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958, and followed this success up with what they considered to be the Ace up their collective sleeve. Intending to beat the Russians at their own game, American scientists chose to launch two monkeys, given that President Eisenhower was such an immense fan of Ronald Reagan’s Bonzo series of films, and had “always wanted to see a monkey pilot a rocketship,” despite the insistence of his scientists that neither monkey would have much control over the actual direction or speed of the satellite.
Though the winner of the space race was never officially declared, this brief moment of all-out competition does show quite clearly the loser of the Internet Race. The Soviet Union, for all its enthusiasm, never sought to outdo itself, and could therefore never hope to advance past the consistent ante-upping of the United States, its chief competitor. The real loser, of course, was the Internet, which enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight, only to be cast aside as a remnant of a by-going era. Life and Look magazines ran ads calling Internet, “The New Rock and Roll,” and the television show The Phil Silvers Show even shot an entire episode dedicated to Sergeant Bilko finding a way to steal Internet access from the monkey satellite that was to launch from his fictional Fort Baxter. The episode, however, never aired, as enthusiasm fizzled quickly in the wake of the suggestion that man might one day, soon, travel to the moon. The lessons we can take from this turn of events are manifold, but perhaps the most important came from the words of Phil Silvers’ Sergeant Bilko himself: “I’m sorry, Colonel, sir, I couldn’t see you behind the monkey!” It would be almost a full decade before we, as a country, learned to see behind the monkey.