98for98: The century in photographs: today 1957

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Independent's photo-history of the 20th century continues and today we review 1957. As illustrated by the picture above, relatively few questioned the expendability of rabbits in the war against disease, and the year was characterised by the desire to push back the frontiers of science at any cost.

In October, the Russians beat the Americans off the blocks in the Space race. Sputnik-1, a sphere 22 inches in diameter and weighing 185lb, transmitted a signal as it orbited the earth once every 95 minutes, and the world listened transfixed. A month later, an altogether more glamorous animal experiment than the one pictured above captured the globe's imagination. Laika, a small Russian dog, was successfully launched into space and measured for her reaction to space travel aboard a Sputnik five

times heavier than its precursor.

The year also brought a reminder that the conquest of nature was not without its dangers. Following the Government's spring announcement that nuclear energy production was to be trebled by 1965, October brought one of the industry's worst accidents to date. A serious fire at the Windscale atomic works in Cumberland culminated in a radioactive leak which was thought to have contaminated nearby pasture land. The Atomic Energy Authority insisted that favourable winds blew the worst of the radioactivity out to sea, but local milk sales were banned none the less. The subsequent enquiry heavily criticised many aspects of Windscale's operation.

Nuclear weaponry was still the technology of choice when it came to national security. Britain dropped its first hydrogen bomb on Christmas Island this year and the first nuclear civil defence manual advocated wearing gloves and hats and using soap and water in the event of nuclear attack.