The soviet success in putting not one, but satellites in earth orbit in less than a month started a general anxiety among US citizens. It looked as in any moment a nuclear bomb could fall over their heads. Anyway, there was an apparent huge gap in military technology between both countries…
Well, no. Both countries where paired. In fact Wernher von Braun’s and his team had been prohibited to attempt to launch any satellite, in spite of having the capabilities to do so a year before Sputnik was flown. But nothing stopped the fear, fueled by a disinformed and sensationalistic media.
Eisenhower’s answer was to be the Vanguard, a satellite/rocket civil project meant to show US citizes that their country was up to the challenge. The problem was that it all blew up to the sky… literally.