Humanity has always dreamed of exploring space to a great degree. Rockets were developed in the latter half of the 20th century that were powerful enough to defy and overcome the force of gravity and allow us to reach orbital velocities — this paved the way for space exploration to become a reality.

The launch of Sputnik

Named after the Russian word for satellite, Sputnik was launched into orbit on October 4, 1957, at the Tyuratam launch base in the Kazakh Republic, and it became the world’s first artificial satellite. The first country to inaugurate the Space Age was the former Soviet Union.

With a weight of 184 pounds and a diameter of 22 inches, the Sputnik circled the Earth once every 96 minutes. Its elliptical orbit and its farthest point from the Earth was 584 miles, while the nearest point was 143 miles. It traveled 18,000 miles per hour—a substantial degree of speed. The Sputnik transmitted radio signals back to Earth that were strong enough to be picked by amateur radio operators, and Sputnik was visible during sunrise and sunset through the use of binoculars.

As the beeping Soviet satellite flew over America several times a day, people with access to the relevant equipment tuned in and listened with awe. Eventually, as expected, Sputnik’s orbit deteriorated, and it burned up in the atmosphere in January 1958.

The launch of Sputnik officially corresponded with the International Geophysical Year. It was a solar period that the International Council of Scientific Unions declared to be the ideal time to launch an artificial satellite to study the solar system and the Earth, though many Americans feared the Soviet’s new satellite technology.

Sputnik was ten times the size of the first planned U.S. satellite, which was scheduled to be launched the following year. To a huge degree, the Soviet’s technological accomplishment caught the U.S. government, the scientific community, and the military off guard. This marked the beginning of the “space race”.

It came as a shock to experts and the citizens of the United States, who hoped that America would accomplish this scientific feat first. The Soviet’s success, to some degree, fed fears that the United States military was falling behind in developing new technology.

The successful launch of Sputnik was one accomplishment in a series of technological achievements. Few had anticipated it in the United States, and even those who did were astonished at how impressive it was.

On January 31, 1958, the United States launched the satellite, Explorer. However, the Soviets by then had achieved yet another ideological victory when they launched a dog into orbit aboard Sputnik 2. The Soviets went on to achieve a series of other space firsts in the late 1950s and early 1960s—first man and woman in space, first three men, first spacecraft to impact the moon, first spacewalk, first to impact Venus, first to orbit the moon, and first soft-land on the moon—credit to the Soviets for these achievements.

However, in the late 1960s, the United States took a giant leap ahead in the space race when they launched Apollo in their lunar-landing program, which had successfully landed eleven astronauts on the moon surface in July 1969.

Although President Eisenhower had tried to downplay the importance of the Sputnik launch to the American people, he streamed additional resources and investment money into the space program in an effort to catch up. In 1957, the United States Government suffered a severe setback when its first artificial satellite, called Vanguard, exploded on the launch pad. It served as a visible reminder of how the country had not yet accomplished any advancement in the space race and compete with the Soviets.

Eventually, both countries went on and developed advanced technological developments, which included nuclear weapons.

Photo Sources:
Cover – YouTube / SciNews,
Photo #1 – NASA via Wikipedia
Photo #2 – Reddit / u/Some_Rocket_Scientis