A Great Source – NASA History
Out of the Sputnik crisis in confidence, NASA is established by the U.S. for the scientific exploration of space. NASA combined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and other government agencies to push for an American lead in what was to become the “space race.”
In 1958, America finally get into the race with the launch of Explorer 1. The first U.S. satellite, successfully orbits the earth at a perigee of 225 miles and an apogee of 1,575 miles with an orbital period of 114.9 minutes. Its total weight was 30.66 pounds, of which 18.35 pounds were instrumentation.
Not as impressive physically as what the Soviets have launched, but it’s America’s and it works. And that counts.
The satellite, designed by the Jet Propulsion Lab was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 10:48 P.M. EST on 31 January 1958 by the Jupiter-C vehicle. The jupiter C was a special modification of the Redstone ballistic missile, that was designed, built, and launched by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) under the direction of Dr. Wernher Von Braun.
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 James Van Allen, who desiged Explorer’s instrumentation.
Explorer’s 2 thru 5 will be launched in 1958, and numbers 6 and 7 in 1959.