The 1958 World's Fair, held in Brussels, was seen by the Soviets as an opportunity to show off. Their pavilion, the largest of all, focused on the progress made since the Bolshevik Revolution. The centerpiece was a display showcasing full-size replicas of the first three Sputniks.
Slightly smaller was the American pavilion, which also celebrated progress, but of a different sort. Displays provided a window on the riches of ordinary American life—television, fashion, cosmetics, appliances, etc., etc., etc. Everywhere people were eating burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, and popcorn. Anyone worried about the complacency of American society and the recent Soviet coup in space (two sides of the same coin, according to the experts) would not have enjoyed the visit to Brussels.
But Americans are nothing if not resourceful. During the night, a team from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other espionage organizations assembled at a secret location, synchronized their watches, and descended upon the Soviet Pavilion. Being spies, they dressed in black, carried no identification, wore the latest decoder rings, and knew all the cool expressions like “terminate,” “negative,” “10-8,” and “10-4.” For three hours they pored over the Sputniks, taking hundreds of photos with miniature cameras. The technology that some Americans assumed had been stolen by the Soviets was stolen back.*
For nearly a year after the formation of NASA, Wernher von Braun was allowed to stew in his juices, while the new agency set out longterm plans for manned space flight. At first, he tolerated this arrangement, since he was busily working on a huge rocket called Saturn which satisfied his ambitions. But then the Defense Department decided that a rocket that size was not needed for ICBMs. Therefore, if Saturn was to
* The feat would be repeated in the early 1960s, when American spies diverted a
Lunik moon explorer due to be exhibited at a trade fair in Mexico. The driver of the truck
carrying the space probe was lured away from his precious cargo after being offered a
night of hedonistic delight in a roadside motel—courtesy of Uncle Sam.