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October 4, 1957: Sputnik 1 Stuns the West

Posted October 04, 2006 9:00 AM by Steve Melito
Pathfinder Tags: NASA October 4 space sputnik
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On this day in engineering history, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 - the world's first artificial satellite. On October 4, 1957, an R-7 rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at Tyuratam, Kazakhstan. Its payload, Sputnik 1, was a basketball-sized sized spacecraft that weighed 183 lbs. Sputnik carried two radio transmitters and four, whip-like antennas while traveling in an elliptical orbit some 250 km above the Earth. Temperature and pressure were encoded in the duration of radio beeps. An analysis of these signals was used to gather information about the electron density of the ionosphere.

The success of Sputnik 1 stunned observers in the United States and caused the American public to worry about the Soviet Union's military capabilities. This concern intensitifed with the November 3 launch of Sputnik 2 and its payload of Laika the dog. Some of America's best space scientists joined the Special Committee on Space Technology, and by the end of January 1958, the U.S. had successflully launched it's own satellite - Explorer 1. Ultimately, Sputnik 1 led to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

See also: Remembering Sputnik and Sputnik 1 Returns.

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The Engineer
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#1

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/04/2006 11:10 AM

Good work comrads. Now, if we could only find a way to make enough bread for everyone.

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The Architect
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#9
In reply to #1

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/06/2006 8:35 AM

So, now you're a commie-hater? Get with the program! Bashing communists is sooo 1950's! (And 60's, and 70's, and quite of bit of the 80's.)

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#2

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/04/2006 11:15 AM

The really funny thing is it was also the first day that "Leave it to Beaver" aired in the US. That ought to give you an idea of what the world was like when it launched.

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#3

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/05/2006 7:52 AM

My father never misses an oportunity to tell me about Sputnik, he was 18 years of age when it was launched and tells me it was easily observed with the naked eye.

On any clear night you will find me out in my backyard hunting down the Messier objects with an 8" Newtonian reflector. It is not uncommon for a man made object to pass through my field of vision and, if I react quickly enough, I can track it for a brief time. The number of objects orbitting the earth that we have put up there is amazing, but I still get a thrill everytime I see one.

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#5
In reply to #3

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/05/2006 10:42 AM

Did he ever mention the dog that flew aboard Sputnik 2? My son asked me about that last night, and we were dismayed to learn about Laika's fate.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/05/2006 12:52 PM

He never did mention the dog, I always assumed that Laika's flight came somewhat later and that re-entry and retrieval had occured (just prior to first manned flights). I did not realize that the intent was to euthanize the dog in space. Having now read the wikipedia article, I can see the nescessity of doing things the way they were done. Personally, I wouldn't design and build an elaborate ship with fully tested life support and re-entry capabilities before finding out if living creatures could even survive liftoff etc. Still, a shame about Laika.

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/05/2006 12:59 PM

Have a look at what wikipedia has to say about space monkeys (sounds like a Frank Zappa song). The first in space was aboard a V2 rocket almost a decade earlier.

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#4

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/05/2006 8:45 AM

So then I guess it was 49 years ago today that my dad, a ham radio operator, sent a congratulatory message to his Russian ham radio friends. And it was probably 49 years ago less a week or so that the FBI (or would it be the CIA?) started knocking on our neighbors' doors to ask them if my dad was a patriot or a traitor...

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#10
In reply to #4

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/10/2006 11:06 AM

Thank you very much for this posting...greatly enjoyed reading the article re ham radio in the 50's. Was studying code and theory circa '52 or '53 but had to sideline it to help the family launch a business up in Ontario. Still have my National NC 125 won in a Boy's Life (Scouting Mag) SWL contest. Thanks again and have forwarded the link to one of our sons who shows an interest in things of this nature. Gene Herrmann; near Cincinnati, Oh.

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/10/2006 1:10 PM

You're welcome, Gene. I hope that you and your son will join CR4, if you haven't done so already. Just look for the "Register" link on the right-hand side of the red bar near the top of the CR4 home page. One good reason to register is that you can then subscribe to posts and threads that are of interest to you. For example, based on your interest in ham radio, you might like to subscribe to the "Communications & Electronics" forum. Hope this helps! - Moose.

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Anonymous Poster
#8

Re: October 4, 1957: Sputnik I

10/06/2006 4:18 AM

Of course, this was part of the International Geophysical Year 1957, in which all nations were trying to advance Science. Regretfully, the Russians were more interested in it than was Eisenhower. The navy was then pressed to get the "Vanguard" into orbit. It was much like Sputnik except that it's antennas were at right angles rather than trailing from the sattelite. After several attempts, the navy was knocked out of the program by the army's attempt. Ever heard of "Explorer"?? This was the first American successful attempt to get a satellite into orbit. Guess who was behind it? Werner von Braun.

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