On October 4, 1957 the first artificial satellite Sputnik-1 acted as the starter pistol for the space race.
In the article Why Did U.S. Lose The Race? Critics Speak Up Dr. C.C.Furnas writes:
The U.S. should have been and could have been the first nation to launch a satellite. Some officials who now belittle Russia’s Sputnik are among those who, in the first place, were not convinced our own satellite program was worth pushing. Had they been so convinced, there is every reason to believe that a U.S. satellite could have been orbiting the earth as early as 1955. Instead, it was not until 1955 that a U.S. satellite program was even seriously discussed. But with vigor and determination, even at that late date we might still have got out “moon” up there first. We had the brains, we had the know-how, we had the money. Why, then, did we not get the first satellite.
American scientists and military scrambled to track the Sputnik.
USSR squeezed every possible bit of PR out of the Sputnik launch, sending models and displays to world fairs and international exhibits.
In the end, Americans probably got the last laugh: while the Russians won the bragging rights, American capitalists managed to commercialize their enemy’s success. And that’s the real difference between capitalism and socialism.