10 Things You Didn't Know About Sputnik

By + More

Compiled by the U.S. News library staff

1. The former Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite, on Oct. 4, 1957.

2. The satellite was the size of a basketball and weighed approximately 180 pounds.

3. It traveled at 18,000 mph, 500 miles above the Earth's surface.

4. It orbited the Earth every 98 minutes, flying over the United States seven times a day.

5. Shortly after its launch, the New York Times explained that the literal translation of "sputnik" is "something that is traveling with a traveler." Additionally, "the traveler is the earth, traveling through space, and the companion 'traveling with' it is the satellite."

6. Carrying only a simple radio transmitter, the satellite emitted a "beep...beep...beep" signal back to Earth for 23 days, until Oct. 27, 1957—when its battery reportedly died.

7. Sputnik remained in orbit until Jan. 4, 1958, when it re-entered and burned up in Earth's atmosphere.

8. Sputnik II was launched on Nov. 3, 1957, carrying the first living thing into space: a dog named Laika. This satellite was six times as heavy as the first, coming in at over 1,100 pounds. Unfortunately, there was no plan in place to get the dog safely back to Earth, and it died in space.

9. Americans were caught off guard by these Soviet advances, occurring at the height of the Cold War. Wonder and awe over the technological advancements combined with feelings of panic and paranoia. Many wondered whether the Soviets now had the ability to launch missiles that could reach the United States. Many also wondered how long it would take the United States to catch up.

10. In response, the space race between the two countries heated up. The United States stepped up its own space plan, launching its first satellite (the Explorer I, which discovered the Van Allen radiation belts) on Jan. 31, 1958. Later that year, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which created NASA.

Encyclopedia Britannica Online
New York Times