Sputnik 1 (Image from NASA)

The Russian earth-orbiting satellite Sputnik 1. (Image from NASA)

WASHINGTON — In his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama drew a parallel to the Cold War to support his call for increased government spending on infrastructure, research and education.

“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he said.

In 1957, the Soviet Union “beat us into space,” Obama said, by launching Sputnik 1, the first satellite to orbit the earth. This came as a major shock.

“We had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon,” he said. “The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist.”

“But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.”

Obama in North Carolina

President Barack Obama tours the biotech facilities at Forsyth Technical Community College West Campus in Winston-Salem, N.C., Dec. 6, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Obama made reference to Sputnik in a speech in North Carolina in December.

One of the U.S.’s crowning Cold War achievements after Sputnik, of course, was reaching the moon. President John F. Kennedy set out the goal in a 1961 address to a joint session of Congress.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”