Research and Writing: The Joy of Not Understanding a Source

sputnik-986_960_720Now that I’m back from the retreat, I’m doing a hard copy edit of the NASA book.  Hint:  I don’t care how often you read something on a screen, you will miss several mistakes.  Missing commas, singulars that should be plural and overused words (word, words, words) all hide themselves when reading on a screen.

Today, I proofed the section on Sputnik.  This section was a special challenge not because of the subject matter but because of my failure to understand it.  Sputnik launched NASA so I have to include it but I couldn’t find much more than the date it launched and the fact that it led to the space race.

Okay, that’s great.  No way will my editor be happy with that.  I needed to know what it did.  Again and again I pulled up information on Sputnik and again and again I found the same limited information.  My husband is a space nut so I twisted around in my desk chair and poked him in the side.  “Tell me about Sputnik.”

“Sputnik was the first satellite.  When the Soviets launched it, they started the space race.”

Where’s man-splaining when I need it?  “What did it do?”

“It circled the Earth.”

“And . . . shot lasers at people?” Yeah, I knew this was wrong but seriously I needed to shake something loose.

“It had a radio on it.  It beeped.”

“Look, if you don’t want to be helpful . . . just say so!”  I turned back to my keyboard and tried a few more searches.  It wasn’t until I was on the treadmill later that reality finally sunk in.  We live in an age where satellites do a lot.  They take photographs of earth and space.  They transmit a wide variety of signals and much, much more.  No one was sure Sputnik would be successful in orbiting the planet let alone anything else. All it did was circle the globe . . . and beep.  Each beep as it drifted above the US was like a giant “kiss my borscht, we’re up here and you aren’t.”

When I apologized, my husband just laughed it off.  “It seems crazy to us today, but that’s all it did.”

In reality, this is why researching history is so tricky.  The way that people think really does change.  What seems obvious to them, isn’t obvious to us and, because of it, we can misinterpret what we read.

Lesson learned, Houston.  Lesson learned.