What Was the First Satellite Launched Into Space?

Sputnik 1 remained in space for a period of three months. Editorial credit: Aleks49 / Shutterstock.com
Sputnik 1 remained in space for a period of three months. Editorial credit: Aleks49 / Shutterstock.com

Sputnik 1 was the first ever satellite to be constructed and propelled into space. The Soviet Union was the pioneering country to launch such a body to the orbit of the Earth on October 4, 1957. The main architect was Sergei Korolev, a rocket scientist, who named it Sputnik 1. The size was comparatively small, being only 23 inches in diameter and was made of metal. It was fitted with radio pulse signals that were easily detected from the earth. It was designed in a way that it could be easily controlled and observed using radio waves. The Sputnik 1 remained in space for a period of three months and used radio signals to transmit signals back to Earth.

Design of the Satellite

Sputnik 1 measured 23 inches in diameter and was made of two metallic hemispheres connected using 36 bolts. The weight was slightly above 184 pounds. It was fitted with radio transmitters that sent electromagnetic waves that could be easily interpreted by even an inexperienced programmer. It had a speed of 18,000 miles per hour, hence it could orbit the Earth in 96.2 minutes. The satellite was fitted with batteries made of silver and zinc that lasted approximately 21 days, enabling the amateur radio controllers to monitor it throughout. The battery ran out of power on January 4, 1958, after the satellite had covered 43 million miles. It was by then coming back into the Earth’s space after covering 1440 revolutions.

The Race to Space

In 1952, the US International Council of Scientists Union agreed to enhance technology and invent a satellite to be launched in five years. In 1954, the US began a joint venture that involved both the army and Navy to set up a satellite into space within the stipulated time frame. In 1955, the State House under President Dwight Eisenhower made it public that plans were at an advanced stage to accomplish the task. Vast resources were used and major ministries enjoined in that task. In the meantime, the Soviet was already through with plans to execute the launch.

The Launch of Sputnik 1

The satellite was released into space on October 4, 1957, at 19:28:34 pm. Though there was a challenge in the first few seconds due to failure by the G-strap to gain optimum power and a challenge with the fuel regulator, the object picked up. After launching it, Sergei Korolev and his team proceeded to the radio transmitter to monitor it.

Reaction and Impact

The US government, which was also preparing to do the first launch, was shocked by the news of the Soviet launch. Previously, in 1955, President Dwight D Eisenhower had initiated such a project, allocated huge resources and assigned various departments. However, the first satellite launch by the US was done in January 1958 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The Britons were very equally surprised by the technological advancement. The Soviets would surprise the world again on November 3 by launching Sputnik 2 with a dog called Laika as its passenger. Americans, specifically, made it a priority to conquer the space after this second launch. The American government created NASA and invested more on scientific research and development. There was a revolution in education, science, and technology with more emphasis on invention and engineering in colleges. More emphasis was put on math and science subjects in the US through the National Defense Education Act of 1958.


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