|The first artificial satellite was launched October 4, 1957. And it wasn’t American.The Soviet made Sputnik, weighing about 183 lbs., took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path, 500 miles up. Traveling at 18,000 miles an hour, Sputnik would “beep, beep, beep” it’s telemetry as it passed over. WAV FILE|
Americans were mortified. This was scary stuff. People thought that the Russkies were going to be dropping bombs from the sky.And the news just got worse.
A month later, the Soviets launched Sputnik II, which weighed 1100 pounds and carried a live dog, Laika.
Americans scientists were scrambling to catch up. In December they launched Vanguard.
Which went between 2 and 4 feet up and promptly burst into a ball of fire. Our satellite, which was the size of a grapefruit, was thrown clear which was as close to travel as it got.
Laika, Soviet Space Dog
|Vanguard was such an embarrassment that people called it “Kaputnik.” In Washington, Dr. John P. Hagen, chief of Project Vanguard, said that the failure of the rocket was “undoubtedly a failure of some individual part” rather than one of design. Whoaky.From here on, we perk right up. Werner Von Braun and his rocket team successfully launch Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958. America is now a player in the “Space Race.”|
Explorer 1, a scientific satellite, used a rocket that had been developed to test guided missile components (also the same rocket later used as a IRBM placed in Turkey and aimed towards the Soviet Union). Explorer 1 carried an instrument package that provided evidence that the Earth is surrounded by intense bands of radiation, named the Van Allen radiation belts, after the James Van Allen, who designed Explorer’s instrumentation.