Lead Story

04-10-1957

Sputnik is launched

The Soviet Union inaugurates the "Space Age" with its launch of Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite on this day in 1957. The spacecraft, named Sputnik after the Russian word for "satellite," was launched at 10:29 p.m. Moscow time from the Tyuratam launch base in the Kazakh Republic. Sputnik had a diameter of 22 inches and weighed 184 pounds and circled Earth once every hour and 36 minutes. Travelling at 18,000 miles an hour, its elliptical orbit had an apogee (farthest point from Earth) of 584 miles and a perigee (nearest point) of 143 miles.

Visible with binoculars before sunrise or after sunset, Sputnik transmitted radio signals back to Earth strong enough to be picked up by amateur radio operators. Those in the United States with access to such equipment tuned in and listened in awe as the beeping Soviet spacecraft passed over America several times a day. In January 1958, Sputnik's orbit deteriorated, as expected, and the spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere. Officially, Sputnik was launched to correspond with the International Geophysical Year, a solar period that the International Council of Scientific Unions declared would be ideal for the launching of artificial satellites to study Earth and the solar system.

However, many Americans feared more sinister uses of the Soviets' new rocket and satellite technology, which was apparently strides ahead of the U.S. space effort. Sputnik was some 10 times the size of the first planned U.S. satellite, which was not scheduled to be launched until the next year. The U.S. government, military, and scientific community were caught off guard by the Soviet technological achievement, and their united efforts to catch up with the Soviets heralded the beginning of the "space race." The first U.S. satellite, Explorer, was launched on 31 January 1958. By then, the Soviets had already achieved another ideological victory when they launched a dog into orbit aboard Sputnik 2.

The Soviet space programme went on to achieve a series of other space firsts in the late 1950s and early 1960s: first man in space, first woman, first three men, first space walk, first spacecraft to impact the moon, first to orbit the moon, first to impact Venus, and first craft to soft-land on the moon. However, the United States took a giant leap ahead in the space race in the late sixties with the Apollo lunar-landing programme, which successfully landed two Apollo 11 astronauts on the surface of the moon in July 1969.

Also on this Day

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1976

First Train Journey Between Bristol and London

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Where would we be without them? Well you could ask any of the disgruntled passengers who regularly try to take Southern Rail services, but we wouldn’t advise it. Those people can be quite testy. But today was a great day in train and training history as it was on October 4th 1976 that the first commercial Inter-City 125 journey took place between ... Read more >

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1966

Pope calls for end to the Vietnam War

Pope Paul VI addresses 150,000 people in St. Peter’s Square in Rome and calls for an end to the war in Vietnam through negotiations. Although the Pope’s address had no impact on the Johnson administration and its policies in Southeast Asia, his comments were indicative of the mounting antiwar sentiment that was growing both at home and overseas.

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1988

Jim Bakker is indicted on federal charges

Televangelist Jim Bakker is indicted on federal charges of mail and wire fraud and of conspiring to defraud the public. The case against the founder of Praise the Lord (PTL) Ministries and three of his aides exploded in the press when it was revealed that Bakker had sex with former church secretary Jessica Hahn. On December 6, 1980, Bakker and Hahn had a sexual encounter in a Florida hotel room... Read more >