Soviet Union heralds the “Space Age” with Sputnik 1
Sputnik 1 was the first artificial Earth satellite in human history. Launched by USSR, on October 4, 1957 into an elliptical low Earth orbit, it heralded the beginning of Space Age.
The idea of Sputnik project can be traced back to 1954 when chief Soviet rocket scientist Sergei Korolev, proposed to Dmitri Ustinov, Minister of Defense Industries at the time, a developmental plan for an artificial satellite.
The plan would stagnate in bureaucracy if it wasn’t for Dwight Eisenhower, who announced the launch of an artificial satellite by the United States in 1957 with the opportunity of IGY (International Geophysical Year), therefore causing the Russians to expedite their space visions.
The successful launch of Sputnik 1, caught the US by surprise, who till then considered the Soviet space aspirations merely propaganda, and put the Soviets clearly ahead in the space race.
On November 3rd, they repeated their success with the launch of Sputnik 2, carrying a much heavier payload and the first animal to orbit the earth: space dog Laika. Sputnik 1 remained on orbit until January 4, 1958 when it entered the Earth’s atmosphere and was destroyed.
The Americans responded a few months later and, on January 31, 1958 they launched successfully Explorer 1 which, carrying a small scientific payload, would discover the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth.
Interactive image: Space race between the Soviet Union and the United States
Undoubtedly, Sputnik 1 was a milestone in the rising era of space exploration and, especially in the context of the Cold War, it led to major developments shortly after its launch, one of which was the very 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.
Interactive image: NASA