October 4, 2007

50 Years After Sputnik 1

Launched 50 years ago today, the first artificial satellite was put in a geocentric orbit. The satellite's name was Sputnik 1, and it was launched aboard a Soviet R-7 rocket. Although it was put into space to complete various tasks, it is remembered today as the satellite that started the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. (At right is the front page of The New York Times, October 5 2007).

One of Sputnik's goals was to detect meteorites. It was internally pressurized with nitrogen and a drop in the pressure would be the result of a leak. Sputnik 1 also helped to identify by its orbit changes, the different densities of the high atmospheric layers and gave information about radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere. The satellite also gave out radio signals that could be picked up by amateur ham radio operators worldwide. The radio transmitter on Sputnik was powered by an on board battery that lasted for 22 days, until October 26, 1957. Sputnik 1 burned up in the atmosphere during reentry, after finishing its journey of about 60 million km (37 million miles) in orbit.

These were all tremendous achievements for Sputnik, but perhaps the most important ones came as a result of its voyage. Sputnik's mission sparked the Space Race, a space exploration competition part of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. This led to humans reaching outer space and eventually setting foot on the Moon.

Sputnik is remembered in our history not only as the first artificial satellite, but also as the spark that ignited the Space Race and led to our current achievements in space exploration.

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Google has made a Google Doodle (a modification of their logo for a special event) to honor Sputnik's 5oth anniversary. The logo is below:

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