CARACAS, Wednesday April 01, 2009 | Update
The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was underway, and the communist power had gained the lead. The fall of Rojas Pinilla in Colombia seemed to foretell what would later happen in Venezuela. The first pacemaker was developed in the University of Minnesota, while in Mexico the great painter and muralist Diego Rivera died
If making it to outer space was the challenge, then the Soviets beat the Americans in the space race, at least in its first phase (the second phase, reaching the moon, would see the United States victorious), by launching the artificial satellite Sputnik I on October 4th from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan.
The Sputnik, an aluminum sphere with a diameter of 58 centimeters and weighing 83 kilograms, carrying four antennas and two radio transmitters, provided data on the density of the top atmospheric layers and the propagation of radio waves in the ionosphere, orbiting at a maximum distance of 932 kilometers and a minimum of 214 from the Earth's surface. The transmitters worked for three weeks until their chemical batteries failed, and the satellite fell 92 days after its launch, having completed 400 orbits around the Earth and covering approximately 70 million kilometers.
On November 3rd, the Soviets launched Sputnik II with an added twist: the presence of Laika, a female dog, in a pressurized chamber with oxygen and gelatin food. After reaching its orbit, the nose of the cone buffering the capsule did not separate as planned and the temperature control turned off.
The death of Laika, which should have taken place ten days after the launch, happened only a few hours later because of intense heat (40º C) inside the cabin. The satellite entered the Earth's atmosphere 162 days after being launched.
Back on Earth, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, presided over by Senator Joseph McCarthy, confronted the army. On March 25th, the European Common Market was created. In Colombia, General Rojas Pinilla was removed from office by a military government board. In July the International Atomic Energy Agency was founded. Juan Manuel Fangio became the Formula 1 world champion.
In Venezuela, monsignor Rafael Arias Blanco, archbishop of Caracas, issued a pastoral statement in which he acknowledged that while Venezuela had the highest per capita income in Latin America "our people live in conditions that cannot be qualified as human." In June, Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner visited Venezuela. In July, Venezuela and Argentina broke off relations; in August the National Security detained Rafael Caldera.
On November 4th, Pérez Jiménez handed over to Congress a draft law that would allow him to be reelected through a plebiscite. On December 9th, Rómulo Betancourt announced in New York the creation of a multi-partisan committee against dictatorship. On December 15th, a plebiscite was held, and the National Electoral Council proclaimed Marcos Pérez Jiménez as president-elect for the 1958-1963 term.
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