Sputnik: 50 Years Ago

The space age began on October 4, 1957, with the launching of the world's first artificial Earth satellite. Sputnik-1 fascinated and frightened vast numbers of people, and it shifted America's space program into high gear. Sputnik was followed by a rapid series of achievements by the Soviet Union: the first lunar probe, first man in space, first attempts to reach Mars and Venus. It was also concurrent with their development of the first ICBMs with nuclear warheads. This followed decades of experimentation and planning, of which most Western experts were unaware.

Rocket Carrying Sputnik-2

Group for the Study of Jet Propulsion

During the 1930s, the Soviet Union carried on a large well-organized effort to study rockets and rocket engines.

Rocket Carrying Sputnik-2

The R-7 Missile

Perhaps the most important rocket in the history of space exploration was the R-7. Originally designed as an ICBM, it quickly became the workhorse of the Soviet space program. The modern Soyuz rocket is a direct descendant of the R-7, still in use after more than 50 years and 1600 missions.

The Sputnik-1 Satellite


The first artificial Earth satellite captured the world's imagination. Sputnik-1 was a simple payload, rushed to completion in order to beat America's announced intention of launching a satellite. It also dramatically demonstrated that Russia could launch a missile on a ballistic trajectory to any point on the planet.

The Dog Laika Was Carried By Sputnik-2


The second artificial Earth satellite is famous for carrying the space dog Laika. It also contained the first scientific instruments for measuring space radiation. Soviet scientists saw the first evidence of the Earth's radiation belts, but failed to realize the importance and publish their results.

The Sputnik-3 Satellite


Sputnik-3 was planned to be the first satellite, code named Object-D. It was a massive orbiting physics laboratory containing 12 experiments to measure conditions in outer space.


Copyright 2007 Don P. Mitchell. All rights reserved.