Sputnik - Soviet Satellite

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The world changed when the Soviet Union launched an artificial satellite called “Sputnik” on the 4th of October, 1957. 

Very small - about the size of a beach ball - Sputnik started “The Space Race” between the USA and the USSR.

NASA tells us more about it:

The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball (58 cm.or 22.8 inches in diameter), weighed only 83.6 kg. or 183.9 pounds, and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments.
The story begins in 1952, when the International Council of Scientific Unions decided to establish July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958, as the International Geophysical Year (IGY) because the scientists knew that the cycles of solar activity would be at a high point then. In October 1954, the council adopted a resolution calling for artificial satellites to be launched during the IGY to map the Earth's surface.

In July 1955, the White House announced plans to launch an Earth-orbiting satellite for the IGY and solicited proposals from various Government research agencies to undertake development. In September 1955, the Naval Research Laboratory's Vanguard proposal was chosen to represent the U.S. during the IGY.

The Sputnik launch changed everything. As a technical achievement, Sputnik caught the world's attention and the American public off-guard. Its size was more impressive than Vanguard's intended 3.5-pound payload.

In addition, the [American] public feared that the Soviets' ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the U.S.

Then the Soviets struck again; on November 3, Sputnik II was launched, carrying a much heavier payload, including a dog named Laika.

Immediately after the Sputnik I launch in October, the U.S. Defense Department responded to the political furor by approving funding for another U.S. satellite project. As a simultaneous alternative to Vanguard, Wernher von Braun and his Army Redstone Arsenal team began work on the Explorer project.

When was America able to catch-up?  When did the US launch its first artificial satellite? 

The NASA article continues:

On January 31, 1958, the tide changed, when the United States successfully launched Explorer I. This satellite carried a small scientific payload that eventually discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth, named after principal investigator James Van Allen. The Explorer program continued as a successful ongoing series of lightweight, scientifically useful spacecraft.

Another important event occurred, following the launch of the first Soviet Sputnik. As a direct result, NASA was born in the summer of 1958:

The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In July 1958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act (commonly called the "Space Act"), which created NASA as of October 1, 1958 from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and other government agencies.

The image, at the top of this page, depicts a mock-up of Sputnik I which is displayed at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (in Washington, D.C.).

Before we end this story, we have to ask another important question. What happened to Laika, the first living creature to orbit the Earth?

Forty years after Laika was sent on Sputnik II's mission, the world learned the truth about this space pioneer. She did not live as long as Soviet officials had originally reported.

Laika actually survived just a few hours, not the four-days-to-one-week which the Soviet press originally stated. Telemetry (from the space capsule) revealed to monitors (on the ground) that the temperature and humidity, inside Sputnik II, were increasing not long after the mission began. The BBC reports:

By the fourth orbit it was apparent that Laika had died from overheating and stress.

Before Sputnik II, carrying Laika's body, returned to Earth's atmosphere - where it burned up on April 4, 1958 - it had circled the Earth 2,570 times. 

What did Laika, who had once been a stray dog in Moscow, contribute to the field of space exploration? A great deal, since she paved the way for the humans who followed:

Despite surviving for just a few hours, Laika's place in space history is assured and the information she provided proved that a living organism could tolerate a long time in weightlessness and paved the way for humans in space.

Media Credits

Image depicting a Sputnik I replica, at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, online courtesy Wikimedia Commons.



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"Sputnik - Soviet Satellite" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 25, 2020.
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