The most powerful weapon in the world is surprise. Even the biggest adversary stands the chance of defeat if properly caught off guard.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union surprised every American… from the common man, all the way up to, and especially, President Eisenhower.
The Soviets launched a tiny, two-foot-wide silver ball called Sputnik 1 into low-Earth orbit. The 184-pound satellite had four small antennas dangling from its sides. It was the first man-made object shot into orbit from Earth.
What made things worse was the Soviets successfully gave the impression they now controlled the sky. Sputnik 1's antennas broadcast a simple radio pulse back to Earth from its orbit. Amateur radio operators in the U.S. picked up the signal and listened fearfully for three weeks until Sputnik 1's batteries died.
A few weeks later, the metal Soviet ball fell out of orbit and burned up in the atmosphere. The whole drama put the U.S. government and its defense sector into panic mode.
A New Space Race
Sputnik 1 kicked off the space race. About 100 days after the Soviet surprise, President Eisenhower created ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency).
Eisenhower didn't want to answer the Soviets by merely sending a U.S.-made metal ball with antennas into orbit. He realized the U.S. needed a system in place to develop technology faster than the Soviets. In an arms race, a good offense beats the best defense.
In the 1970s, ARPA became DARPA with the "D" added for "Defense." The agency is a government research initiative designed to channel private sector talent toward defense initiatives.
In addition to shepherding the U.S. space program through development, DARPA played a key role in integrated circuits, the first silicone microchips, the development of GPS, stealth technology for fighter jets, and most notably, the internet. DARPA created ARPANET, which sent the first communication messages between computers.
While the most sensitive details of the technology behind today's efforts at the agency are closely guarded, the agency itself is more open than we realized. Strategic Investor lead analyst John Pangere and I (E.B.) discovered it would have its 60th anniversary conference back in September. We paid $500 each to attend.