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On This Day: Sputnik Satellite Launched Into Orbit

October 04, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union put the first artificial satellite into Earth's orbit, marking the start of the Space Age.

Sputnik I

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The Sputnik mission originated in the Soviet R-7 project headed by Sergei Korolev that was building ballistic missiles that could reach the United States. Korolev saw the unprecedented altitude and speed reached by the R-7 and recognized that the technology could be used to launch an object into orbit.

On May 27, 1954, Korolev, after studying the issue with fellow scientist Mikhail Tikhonravov, asked the Soviet government to create a satellite program. The request was granted in January 1956, not long after U.S. President Eisenhower had announced plans for an American satellite. The program called for three different satellites “for scientific experiments,” “to carry an animal into orbit,” and “a more advanced military satellite.”

Korolev did not receive the funding he wanted and the satellite program sputtered. After the first five practice launches failed, Korolev—hoping to beat the U.S. into Space—quickly developed a smaller satellite, a “plain, polished 83.6 kg sphere containing only a radio transmitter, batteries and temperature measuring instruments, with the intent to place it in orbit on a rocket,” according to James J. Harford, author of “Korolev’s Triple Play: Sputniks 1, 2, and 3.”

The “simplest satellite,” Sputnik I, had a 22-ich (58 cm) spherical ball with four antennae. It was launched into space by an R-7 rocket at 10:28 p.m. Moscow time from the Tyuratam station in present-day Kazakhstan. It completed an orbit of the Earth every 98 minutes, and spent 92 days in space before burning up as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.

Sputnik I had little scientific value. For 22 days, before its power source ran out, it measured temperature and transmitted radio signals, making a “beep, beep, beep” on radios when it passed overhead. It’s real value, however, was proving that it was possible to send man-made satellites into orbit.
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