The popular reaction of Americans to the launch of Sputnik was shock and anxiety. Sputnik launched in 1957, still near the beginning of the Cold War, and the Soviet Union, the major enemy of the United States in that conflict, had won the first part of the space race.
Sputnik was a meaningful but mostly symbolic victory for the Soviet Union. The satellite had no real function, and only orbited the Earth and sent out random radio signals. It was launched with a crude kerosene-powered rocket. Nonetheless, its launch prompted the United States to intensify its efforts in the space race.