Sputnik 1: 60 Year Anniversary Of The Satellite That Started The Space Race

Launched on October 4th, 1957, Sputnik 1 was the first artificial Earth satellite. The Soviet Union launched the tiny satellite into an elliptical low Earth orbit in 1957. It was a 58 cm diameter polished metal sphere, with four external radio antennas to broadcast radio pulses. Its radio signal was easily detectable even by amateurs, and the 65° inclination and duration of its orbit made its flight path cover virtually the entire inhabited Earth.

technician working on the Sputnik satellite
This historic image shows a technician putting the finishing touches on Sputnik 1, humanity’s first artificial satellite. The pressurized sphere made of aluminum alloy had five primary scientific objectives: Test the method of placing an artificial satellite into Earth orbit; provide information on the density of the atmosphere by calculating its lifetime in orbit; test radio and optical methods of orbital tracking; determine the effects of radio wave propagation though the atmosphere; and, check principles of pressurization used on the satellites. Image Credit: NASA/Asif A. Siddiqi

The Launch of the Sputnik 1 Satellite Shocked the World

Sputnik 1 replica
Sputnik 1 replica

The successful launch shocked the world, giving the former Soviet Union the distinction of putting the first human-made object into space. The word ‘Sputnik’ originally meant ‘fellow traveler,’ but has become synonymous with ‘satellite’ in modern Russian. The world’s first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball, about 23 inches in diameter and weighing less than 190 pounds. It took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R. space race. 

The small satellite was launch aboard a Soviet Sputnik rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soviet era launch site is now owned and operated by Roscosmos.

Completing 1440 orbits around Earth, the Sputnik satellite ended up falling back to Earth and burning up in the atmosphere a process called orbital decay. 

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