In 1957 Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would imminently catch up to the United States in the production of meat, milk, and butter. The Soviets began testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. Then, in October, Russia sent its bleeping medicine ball around the planet. America's space-race debut was rushed to the launching pad, where it rose five feet before disintegrating into a fireball (headline: "FLOPNIK").Compare the somewhat different impression of this episode given by Martin McCauley's Russia, America and the Cold War, 1949-1991 (Longman, 1998):
The space age was launched on 4 October 1957 when Sputnik circumnavigated the globe every 96 minutes. It was a staggering achievement for Russian science to propel an 83.6 kg satellite into space for three months.... It was followed by another eight Sputniks which scored a dazzling list of firsts, the first dog in space, and so on. Russian rocket technology was the best in the world and threatened to alter the balance of world power.... As events were to show, Khrushchev became dangerously over-confident. Everything was not as it seemed. Eisenhower had actually prevented America from being the first in space. The capacity had been there but the U.S. President was concerned about sending a space vehicle over enemy territory. He wanted the Russians to go first and then the Americans would follow. Had the U.S. gone first, it might have lowered the tension of the ensuing five years. [p.31]Eisenhower wanted the Russians to go first?! No wonder Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch Society) thought Ike was a tool of international Communism (note to the humor-impaired: joke).
More seriously, why, if the capability was there, did the first U.S. effort to match Sputnik disintegrate practically on the launch pad? Presumably because the capability hadn't been operationalized (or actualized, if you prefer that word), and then the U.S. rushed its response, with predictable results.
By the way, I feel sorry for the first dog in space (mentioned in the McCauley quote above); I hope it was given a suitable reward. Ditto for the terrified-looking monkeys that the Soviets launched into orbit -- at least as I recall, from seeing pictures.
Here's Rousseau: "...since... [animals] share to some extent in our nature by virtue of their having sensations, it will be judged that they must also participate in natural right, and that man is subject to some kind of duties toward them. Indeed, it seems that if I am obligated to do no evil to my fellow man, it is less because he is a rational being than because he is a sentient being -- a property that, because it is common to both animals and men, should at least give the beast the right not to be needlessly mistreated by man." (Discourse on Inequality [Preface], Oxford World's Classics edition, trans. Franklin Philip, p.18)
Btw, Russia has a new cosmodrome, i.e. space launch site.
ETA: A bit of cursory research reveals that a lot of books have been published in the last 25 years or so on the space race in general and Sputnik in particular.