Launch of Sputnik I
Launch of Sputnik I
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first man-made object in space, which sparked the start of the Space Race with the United States.
Plans for the satellite began back in December 1954, when Soviet rocket scientist Sergei Korolev proposed the creation of an artificial satellite, urging that it was an important step in the development of rocket technology. Less than a year later, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that the US would launch an artificial satellite during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58. In response, the Soviet government quickly approved work to move forward on the satellite.
The satellite, named Object D, was built by members of several institutions: the USSR Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Defence Industry, the Ministry of Radiotechnology Industry, the Ministry of Ship Building Industry, the Ministry of Machine Building, and the Ministry of Defense. Eventually, the design of the satellite was simplified because they feared it couldn’t be done in time to launch before the American satellite. The Soviets had their first rocket test launch in May 1957, but it failed. Two others failed, but the fourth in August was a success.
Sputnik I was successfully launched on October 4, 1957. Though it did have some issues along its journey, it achieved its major goal of getting into space. Russian for satellite or co-traveler, Sputnik I was about the size of a beach ball and had four flimsy metal antennae that resembled whiskers trailing behind it as it flew overhead.
The Soviets had announced that night that they would be launching their satellite and told the US and other countries to watch for it in the sky. They also asked radio amateurs and commercial radio stations to record the sound of the satellite as it passed.
Sputnik pushed the world into a new era – the Space Age – as the US and the Soviet Union competed for supremacy in the race for outer space. The Sputnik launching had other consequences as well – the knowledge of a Soviet satellite flying freely over US soil during the Cold War prompted what President Dwight Eisenhower called the “Sputnik Crisis.”
It may seem strange now – that a sphere two feet in diameter could prompt such frenzy. But the tensions in the years following the use of the first atomic bombs had both nations in a high state of paranoia. And the “R-7” rocket that launched Sputnik I into space was originally intended to carry nuclear warheads.
The successful launch of Sputnik was a blow to the American public, who had believed the US was the world’s technological superpower. The US government had been aware of the work on Sputnik and began developing its own satellite, Explorer I, which launched on January 31, 1958. They also began investing more in scientific programs to help the US pull ahead in the Space Race.
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