Sputnik Launched

Sputnik Launched

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The Soviet Union inaugurates the “Space Age” with its launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. 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. Traveling 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.

READ MORE: How the Cold War Space Race Led to U.S. Students Doing Tons of Homework

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 January 31, 1958. By then, the Soviets had already achieved another ideological victory when they launched a dog into orbit aboard Sputnik 2. The Soviet space program 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 ’60s with the Apollo lunar-landing program, which successfully landed two Apollo 11 astronauts on the surface of the moon in July 1969.

Sputnik 2

Sputnik 2 (Russian pronunciation: [ˈsputʲnʲɪk] , Russian: Спутник-2 , Satellite 2), or Prosteyshiy Sputnik 2 (PS-2, Russian: Простейший Спутник 2, Simplest Satellite 2) was the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit, on 3 November 1957, and the first to carry a living animal, a Soviet space dog named Laika. Laika died on the fourth orbit due to overheating caused by an air conditioning malfunction. [2]

Launched by the U.S.S.R., Sputnik 2 was a 4-metre-high (13 ft) cone-shaped capsule with a base diameter of 2 metres (6.6 ft) that weighed around 500 kilograms (1,100 lb), though it was not designed to separate from the rocket core that brought it to orbit, bringing the total mass in orbit to 7.79 tonnes (17,200 lb). [3] It contained several compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, a regeneration and temperature-control system for the cabin, and scientific instruments. A separate sealed cabin contained the dog Laika.

Engineering and biological data were transmitted using the Tral D telemetry system, transmitting data to Earth for a 15-minute period during each orbit. Two photometers were on board for measuring solar radiation (ultraviolet and x-ray emissions) and cosmic rays. A 100 line television camera provided images of Laika. [4] Sputnik 2 was launched into space only 32 days after its predecessor Sputnik 1. Due to the huge success of Sputnik 1, Nikita Khrushchev ordered Sergei Korolev back to work creating a Sputnik 2 that needed to be ready for space for the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. [5]

The plan for Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2 was initiated and presented by Korolev, and was approved in January 1957. At that time, it was not clear that the Soviets' main satellite plan (which would eventually become Sputnik 3) would be able to get to space because of the ongoing issues with the R-7 ICBM, which would be needed to launch a satellite of that size. "Korolev proposed substituting two 'simple satellites' for the IGY satellite". [5] The choice to launch these two instead of waiting for the more advanced Sputnik 3 to be finished was largely motivated by the desire to launch a satellite to orbit before the US.


On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. In a single stroke, this 184-pound object brought into question the United States' pre-eminence in science, industry, and military power. Sputnik, meaning "satellite" and roughly translated as "fellow traveler," was launched by an R7 Semiorka rocket. The rocket was launched from Tyuratam near Baikonur in Kazakstan, at that time part of the Soviet Union and now an independent country. Sputnik broadcast beeps back to Earth for 23 days until its batteries ran down. It remained in earth orbit until January 4, 1958, when it burned up on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. During its initial orbits, its apogee, which is the point of its orbit that is the farthest from the Earth, was 588 miles, and its perigee, which is the point of its orbit that is the closest to the Earth, was 142 miles. Its speed, during each 96-minute orbit, ranged from 16,200 mph at apogee to 18,000 mph at perigee. The principal scientific purpose for this flight was to study the density of the upper atmosphere. By sending the regularly spaced beeps, Sputnik could be positioned with great accuracy, providing information on the atmosphere, which was impeding it. During the late summer, the Soviets had announced that a long-distance Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) had successfully been tested to an altitude of 815 miles and a speed of 13,700 mph. The estimated range of this missile was 5,000 miles. During this period, the United States had experienced two failures in tests of its own Atlas ICBMs. Not having witnessed the Soviet test, the U.S. was quick to suggest that the claim was unlikely. The Atlas ICBM, with its guidance system, was designed to launch a nuclear payload from Texas to nearly anywhere in the Soviet Union and helped propel the rapid acceleration of the Cold War nuclear arms race. After October 4, the observable reality of Sputnik, blinking its way across the American sky, made Soviet missile superiority undeniable. Americans were shocked. The famous science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, commented that "As of Saturday, the United States became a second-rate power." The country's most famous rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, observed that "The Soviet's progress in space is frightening." One immediate result of Sputnik was a revived interest in science and technology education in the United States. The U.S. Office of Education had just issued a report on the state of American education. It estimated that, in terms of science, the typical Soviet student was as far advanced after 10 years as American students were after 12. as a result of this report, American science education was to more closely involve university researchers in the development of school curricula. Later Sputnik missions included the 250-pound Sputnik 2, which was launched on November 3, 1957 with the first dog to orbit the Earth, and subsequently Sputnik 3 on May 15, 1958, which boasted a miniature physics laboratory on board.

The Sputnik Program

The Sputnik Program was a series of five space missions launched by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. There are a variety of other classes of Soviet spacecraft that are referred to as "Sputniks" by Americans, however only the first five were part of the Soviet Sputnik Program. The first of these spacecraft, Sputnik 1, was the first artificial satellite ever to be launched into orbit, effectively starting the "Space Race" between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Ukrainian Sergei P. Korolev, a rocket designer in the Soviet ICBM program, is widely regarded as the founder of the Soviet space program. In 1944, Korolev had designed the Soviet equivalent to the German V2 missile, the R-1. Several design changes later, in 1957 Korolev's R-7 was created, powerful enough to put a satellite into orbit. As participants in the "International Geophysical Year", the Russians were working on a satellite with a scientific payload, but progress was slow, and there was an urgency to beat the Americans into space. Since the R-7 was ready, Korolev's team designed a barebones satellite, a simple beeping orbiter, which became known as Sputnik 1.

Sputnik 1 was launched on October 4, 1957. The satellite was 23 inches in diameter and weighed approximately 184 lb. Each of its elliptical orbits around the Earth took about 96 minutes. Set up to broadcast a beep on 20 and 40 MHz frequencies, its signal was received both by scientists and amateur radio operators worldwide for 22 days until October 26, 1957 when the onboard batteries ran out of charge. Sputnik 1 was also outfitted with instruments to measure the density of the Earth's atmosphere. Calculations based on the last signals received from the satellite and the degradation of its orbit project that Sputnik 1 burned into the atmosphere on January 4, 1958. Some evidence indicates that parts of the spacecraft survived re-entry.

Sputnik 2, launched on November 3, 1957 via the R-7 rocket, was the second artificial spacecraft to achieve Earth orbit. This was also the first spacecraft to carry a living creature, a thirteen pound dog named Laika. Built by Korolev and his team in less than one month, Sputnik 2 was a thirteen-foot high cone-shaped structure, the base measuring six and one-half feet, and weighed in at roughly half a ton. Different compartments held different scientific instruments Laika

had her own separate sealed cabin. Originally reported to have survived 7 days, documents released in 2002 revealed that Laika perished from overheating several hours into the spaceflight due to malfunctions in the thermal control subsystem. As tragic as this seems, the original plan was to euthanize Laika after 10 days with poisoned food, as there was only enough oxygen to last 10 days. There was no re-entry plan. After 162 days on orbit, Sputnik 2 reentered the atmosphere on April 14, 1958.

The Sputnik 3 satellite was launched on May 15, 1958 with the intent of studying the ionosphere. This was the satellite that had originally been slated for the first Soviet launch. Sputnik 3, like Sputnik 2, was conical in shape, and weighed about 2,926 lbs. It carried 12 scientific instruments designed to study the pressure and composition of the atmosphere in its upper layers concentration of charged particles, photons in cosmic rays, heavy nuclei in cosmic rays, magnetic and electrostatic fields, and meteoric particles, as well as measure the temperature in the spacecraft and on its surface. Due to a failure of its onboard tape recorder, data could only be collected from Sputnik 3 during space to ground radio contacts. Sputnik 4 remained in orbit until April 6, 1960, when the orbit degraded from drag in upper atmosphere and the spacecraft burned into the atmosphere.

Sputnik 4 was launched on May 14, 1960, designed to investigate the means for manned space flight. Weighing approximately 3,256 pounds, it contained scientific instruments to study the operation of the life support system and the stresses of flight, including a television system, and a self-sustaining biological cabin with a "dummy" of a man. Sputnik 4 orbited the Earth for four days, then was scheduled to release a re-entry cabin. The cabin released, however retro rockets designed to de-orbit the cabin fired with incorrect attitude data, pushing the cabin further out into space. The capsule eventually re-entered the atmosphere on September 5, 1962, leaving at least one of it's pieces in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, USA. Due to SOS signals received from the vicinity of Sputnik 4 on November 28, 1960, some sources suggest that this flight was actually manned by a human.

Sputnik 5 was launched on August 19, 1960, the first space flight that actually returned living creatures back from space, unharmed. Doing further research on the habitability of space for humans, Sputnik 5 carried two dogs, Belka and Strelka, two

rats, forty mice, various plants and a human mannequin "Ivan Ivanovich". Sputnik 5 weighed 10,141 pounds, and returned to the Earth after one day of orbiting on August 20, 1960.

The Sputnik Program was followed by the Soviet Vostok Program, which went on to carry the first human into Space. Both Sputnik 4 and 5 are also considered part of the Vostok Program.

The Sputnik Program had significant military implications to the world: the ICBM missiles used to launch the Sputnik satellites were also capable of traveling from the Soviet Union to their military targets in less than one hour. Conventional bombers would take several hours for the same flight. The Soviet's status as a very formidable foe to the United States was cemented and the tensions of the Cold War were heightened. In the late 1950's, the Soviet Union saw itself as the stronger of the superpowers in both the Space Race and the Cold War.

While the United States Navy and Air Force were working on their own space missile projects prior to the launch of Sputnik 1, this event spurred the U.S. Government into creating the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in February of 1958, and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) in July of 1958. The National Science Foundation received almost $100 million more in appropriation funds from the U.S. Congress in 1959 than the previous year. The fear of losing the Space Race also prompted the advancement of the educational system in the United States Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) in 1958. The NDEA boosted funding for both higher education institutions, and elementary/secondary education, with an emphasis on math and physical science.

The International Geophysical Year lasted from July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958. Both the USA and the USSR were participating in this international scientific event. Although the launch of Sputnik 1 is often cited as the beginning of the Space Race, both countries were already racing to become the first space power. Because the Space Race occurred during the Cold War, secrecy was a necessarily. Due both to the secrecy of these Soviet space missions and disinformation tactics, many facts about the Sputnik satellites are disputable. Many classified documents have since been released to the public, but many secrets have been kept secret.

The Scientific Legacy of Sputnik

Fifty years ago this week, Sputnik Chief Designer Sergei Korolyov watched as a modified Russian missile launched into space from Kazakhstan's lonely steppes carrying a very special payload.

Sputnik 1 ("traveling companion" in Russian) was about the size of a basketball and weighed about 180 pounds. It was equipped with two radio transmitters and four long antennas that broadcasted a constant beep while circling the Earth for 21 days.

Sputnik's launch stunned the world and changed it, too. It heralded in dramatic fashion a new "space age," created an identity crisis in the United States, led to the creation of NASA and began a flurried race between the world's two superpowers to place a human on the moon.

Sputnik touched all walks of life. For politicians, its launch provided a new and powerful way to stir up patriotism. Winning the space race was not only a matter of national security, they said, but of national pride.

For engineers, the space age represented a new set of daunting technological hurdles to be overcome. The engineers were the group tasked with inventing machines capable of escaping Earth's gravity and reaching the moon, as well as ways to keep humans alive in space and to communicate with them from the ground.

For people of a military mindset, Sputnik represented an awesome and frightening new way of waging war. The same technology needed to loft a satellite into space could also be adapted to hurl a nuclear warhead at your enemies from half a world away.

For environmentalists, the photographs of our planet in full that came out of the space age were a powerful propaganda tool. The "Blue Marble" image taken by the crew of Apollo 17 spoke volumes about Earth's fragility and the interconnectedness of life and humanity.

But all of these things would come later. Arguably the first people to fully grasp Sputnik's significance and to exploit its technology were scientists for whom the beeping metal ball represented a radical new way of studying our planet and the universe.

Scientists made their first major discovery of the space age a mere three months after Sputnik's launch. American scientist James Van Allen convinced engineers to strap a Geiger counter his team had designed to the first American satellite, Explorer 1, launched on January 31, 1958. The experiment confirmed the existence of Earth's magnetic field by detecting a doughnut-shaped region of high- energy particles encircling the planet. Scientists now know Earth has two such "Van Allen Belts" which can be hazardous to both satellites and astronauts.

Boost for science

Sputnik's launch forced Americans to rethink the notion that they were the world's most technologically advanced nation. "Many people were flabbergasted that the Russians, of all people, could do it," recalled William Burrows, author of This New Ocean, a detailed chronicle of the space age.

"The Communists bragged that they invented the airplane, radio, television, rockets and so on, so Americans made jokes that [they] probably also took credit for inventing baseball and bubble gum," Burrows said. "We laughed and ridiculed them. Then Sputnik. POW! They really did have muscle."

What followed was an unprecedented push in the United States to educate the nation's youth in science and mathematics. In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act to provide scholarships for aspiring scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

"Sputnik made everybody think about science and technology more seriously," said David Thompson, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Aspiring astronomers

The U.S. government's push for scientific education was made easier in many ways by Sputnik. The satellite was a technological marvel that inspired an entire generation of students—and not just aspiring engineers. Some astronomers trace their interest in space to the Sputnik-era.

"Everybody was going out to try to see these satellites that had just been launched and I went out and said 'You know, these other things in the sky are more interesting,'" Thompson said. "There are stars out there and planets.'"

"I was a kid and it sounded very exciting," said Mario Livio, a senior astronomer at the Space Science Telescope Institute in Maryland. "At the time, the first name that I remembered for this was an 'artificial moon.' That of course had its own feelings that went with it: 'Humans have created their own artificial moon.'"

Lasting legacy

For many scientists, Sputnik's greatest legacy is the space observatories such as Hubble that it paved the way for.

Space telescopes "opened up new wavelength regimes or bettered the capabilities in a given regime by a factor of ten" compared to ground telescopes, Livio told

"The studies of the microwave background from space started with COBE and continued through to WMAP," said Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics who works at the University of Texas in Austin. "That has really made cosmology into a precision science and given us our best evidence about inflation."

Others think Sputnik's contributions to science are more subtle. The space age also encouraged scientists in all disciplines to entertain new ideas, said spaceflight historian Roger Launius, chair of the Division of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution&rsquos National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

"We had no idea in the past until we started to explore space what the potential hazards as well as opportunities there were out there," Launius said. "When did the theory that the dinosaurs had a sudden mass extinction as a result of an asteroid emerge? Had we not flown in space, we would never have even considered that as a possibility."


The first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched on 4 October 1957. The satellite contained two radio transmitters designed so that their signals could be received easily by radio amateurs. It weighed just 183.9 lbs (83.6 kg), and orbited in 96-98 minutes at 18,000 mph (29,000 kph).

The radio transmitter on-board broadcasted at 20.005 and 40.002 MHz. The signal was monitored by amateur radio operators throughout the world. On October 26th, 1957, the batteries ran out and the orbit decayed until it re-entered the atmosphere on January 4th, 1958, burning up.

Sputnik itself did not make any sound. The signal worked like the rekeying of a morse radio key, thus the pitch depends on the pitch set by the ham radio operator’s equipment.

Sputnik 2

Just 32 days later, Sputnik 2 launched on November 3, 1957, carrying the dog Laika, and weighing 1,100 lbs (508.3 kg). This meant that it was big enough to be a warhead. Laika only survived a few hours due to unexpected overheating, but the satellite remained in orbit for 162 days.

Sputnik Timeline:

  • 1954 -- As a second part (behind the Antartica efforts), of the IGY NSF budget was to launch an experimental satellite (draft resolution 3 rd week of August, 1954, adopted 25 Sept by IUGG). Satellites had been discussed at least as early as 1952 at Lincoln Labs, there was a 1954 RAND study
  • 1955 -- Soviet intention to launch satellite for International Geophysical Year
  • 1956 -- Eisenhower announces US intention to launch satellite for International Geophysical Year
  • 1957, 4 October -- Sputnik launched
  • 18 October -- J F Kennedy speech at University of Florida re “age of Sputnik” calls for a civilian space agency, and toughening of science standards in U.S. schools
  • 3 November -- Sputnik 2 launched carrying the dog Laika. Sputnik 2 weighs 508.3 kg/ 1,100 lbs
  • 7 November -- President Eisenhower appoints Killian the first Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology aka Presidential Science Adviser
  • Late November -- Senator Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell open an investigation and Johnson is chairing Senate hearings “Inquiry into Satellite and Missile Programs.”
  • 6 December -- Vangard rocket lifts 4 feet, falls and explodes. 1.3 kg satellite (“derisively called, ‘the grapefruit’ falls into the bushes and begins transmitting signals)
  • 1958, Project 137 (physics summer program)
  • February -- ARPA, later DARPA created
  • 2 September -- National Defense Education Act passed, including Judd amendment establishing the Federal Student Loan Program
  • 1959, February -- US launches first successful satellite
  • December -- Physicists (among them IEEE Fellow Charles Townes, inventor of laser and later a Nobel Laureate) meet in Los Alamos and launch JASON as a summer study program
  • 1960 (FY) -- DOD appropriates special $17 million


Chertok, Rockets and People, Volume 2: Creating a Rocket Industry

(Winner of a 2006 Award from the International Academy of Astronautics)

p. 333 &ndash Korolev's memo requesting the permission to launch an artificial satellite

p. 334 &ndash Sputnik performance characteristics

p. 338 &ndash rivalry in the Soviet ballistic missile and space establishment secrecy

p. 345 &ndash comparative sizes of first Soviet and American space launchers

p. 375 &ndash comparative sizes and masses of Sputnik 1, Explorer 1, and Vanguard 1

p. 376 &ndash timeline of major developments on the road to the ICBM and first satellites

Chapter 15. The Breakthrough

(60 pages with 35 photos and figures most figures not shown in the web version)
from Blazing the Trail

Origins of Soviet ICBM. Mikhail Tikhonravov. Rocket packet. R-7 ICBM. Engines of Valentin Glushko. Vassilii Mishin and rocket suspension. Sergei Korolev. R-7 and Atlas. Difficult launches. Disintegrated warhead. Grigorii Kisunko. R-7 (SS-6) deployed. Artificial satellite. International Geophysical Year (IGY). Object D. "We are asking for permission . " Simplest satellite PS. Launch on 4 October 1957. Sputnik in orbit. Korolev under his real name. Two new stars. Chief designers of space systems. Unexpected Sputnik's radio frequencies. Crowning achievement. Rivalry in rocket and space establishment. Glushko's Energia-Buran. Veil of secrecy. Chief Designer Sergei Korolev and Chief Theoretician Mstislav Keldysh. Beginning of the R-7 Semyorka. Loadstar speaking for socialism. American reaction to Sputnik. Poor state of science education. Space Pearl Harbor. Soviet and American education and science. Chose to remain uninformed. Sputnik impact underestimated. Lack of priority. Chosen to be beaten. Object D launched. American rockets close the gap. Manned spaceflight. Soviet Vostok program. First man in space - Yurii Gagarin. Tireless care of Communist Party. Explorer and Vanguard. IGY. Project Orbiter. NRL proposal. Killian Report. President’s announcement and Soviet response. Stewart Committee. Selection of Vanguard and termination of Orbiter. NRL and Martin teams. New launch vehicle. Power plant. Comprehensive program. Minitrack. Worldwide network. Predecessor of STDN. Optical tracking system. Precise time. Computers for satellite tracking. Scientific instruments. Success of TV-0 and TV-1. Baby satellite. Solar cells. Attention focuses on Vanguard. Jupiter C. Hydyne. 20 September 1956. "Missed the boat in 1956." TV-3 explodes. Army leaders at Redstone. Medaris charges ahead. Microlock. Discovery of radiation belts. Micrometeorite sensors. Passive thermal control. Spacecraft spin. Explorer 1 in orbit. Evolution of Explorer 1 spin axis. Dancing in the streets of Huntsville. Vanguard 1 in orbit. The oldest man-made object in orbit. Birth of NASA. Freedom of space accepted. National space effort. Presidential science advisor. National debate. Scientific-technological elite. National Aeronautics and Space Act. T. Keith Glennan. NACA centers. Transfer o f JPL. Marshall Space Flight Center. Beltsville Space Center. Science and applications. Communication satellites. Echo satellites. Manned Spacecraft Center. Seven Mercury astronauts. Space report card for 1960. Kennedy challenges the nation. "I believe we should go to the Moon."

The Soviet breakthrough into space can be directly traced back to the government decision on 4 December 1950, authorizing a feasibility study of intercontinental missiles "with the range 5000–10000 km [3100–6200 miles] and warhead mass 1–10 tonne" (Semenov 1996, 73). Deputy Prime Minister Vyacheslav A. Malyshev narrowed the target technical specifications in October 1953, requiring delivery of a nuclear charge with a mass 3000 kg (6600 lb) and a total warhead mass of 5500 kg (12,200 lb).

The design bureau of Sergei Korolev advocated this initiative to develop an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any area in the world and especially to the territory of the main adversary. (The Soviet vernacular reserved the term "the main adversary" for the United States.) Leading Soviet specialists and their vast design bureaus, research institutions, and manufacturing facilities would contribute to the program concentrating on propulsion, guidance, navigation, control, communications, telemetry, and other key rocket systems. The government decree of 20 May 1954 made the ICBM program a top national priority.

The new intercontinental ballistic missile, designated R-7 (SS-6 Sapwood), had one central stage and four side sections attached to the central core. Each section was equipped with its own engine. A veteran Soviet rocketeer Mikhail K. Tikhonravov, who was one of the GIRD's team leaders in 1930s, described a concept of several mechanically joined rockets in a "packet" or "package" (paket in Russian) in July 1948. (Tikhonravov advanced Tsiolkovsky's thoughts on this issue dating back to 1934.) In a technical report three years later, Korolev proposed a package of rockets of different sizes, in contrast to the identical rockets of the original concept. Starting in the late 1940s, Tikhonravov has worked in a military missile research institute, NII-4, where his group laid theoretical foundations for the practical work that would follow on the first space launcher and the first artificial satellite. Tikhonravov joined Korolev's OKB-1 in 1956. There, he significantly contributed to the design of the first satellite, first manned spaceship, and first Soviet space reconnaissance system. It was reportedly Tikhonravov who argued for using the word kosmonavt, or cosmonaut, in Russian instead of the American astronaut (astronavt in Russian). (see detailed discuission) Tikhonravov retired in 1960.

All five rocket engines of the R-7 were started simultaneously. The central sustainer section was designed to burn for 283 s while the firing time of the four side sections was 115 s. All of the side sections separated at the same time after their cutoff. The R-7 was customarily called a two-stage rocket it was similar, however, to the "one-and-one-half-stage" configuration of the American Atlas.

Valentin P. Glushko's OKB-456 designed and built liquid-oxygen-kerosene engines for the R-7. The engines produced 80–90 tonnes of thrust each and achieved specific impulse 250 s at sea level. The fully fueled rocket weighed 280 tonnes at launch, with the dry weight 27 tonnes. The warhead section, the "payload," accounted for about 5000 kg. The projected rocket range was 8000 km (5000 miles) with the impact accuracy ±10 km (±6 miles). Following the idea of Korolev's deputy Vassilii P. Mishin, the R-7 was suspended on the launching pad from the four side masts that held the rocket body at a point somewhat higher than its center of gravity. This clever suspension method decreased loads acting at the base of the fully fueled rocket standing on a pad and consequently allowed reduction of the structural weight of the rocket body.

The R-7 was significantly heavier and taller than the Atlas ICBM. When the Atlas program was restarted as the MX-1593 in January 1951, it called for delivery of a 8000-lb (3600-kg) warhead by a rocket 160 ft (49 m) tall with a launch mass 670,000 lb (304,000 kg) and powered by one central (sustainer) and four or six side (booster) engines. In the spring of 1953, the Atlas had “become,” on paper, smaller as a result of the projected reduction of the warhead mass and improved engine performance, the latter because of a more efficient kerosene-oxygen-propellant combination. The then-envisioned rocket had height 110 ft (33.5 m), mass 440,000 lb (200,000 kg), one central sustainer, and four jettisonable side engines. This variant of the American missile was strikingly similar to the configuration and the height of the R-7, though the Atlas was somewhat lighter. As the nuclear weapons technology advanced further, the mass of the American warheads became smaller, and their higher yields led to relaxation of the missile accuracy requirement, the circular error probable (CEP), to 1 mile (1.6 km) from the original 1500 ft (460 m). These improvements in warheads allowed reduction of the number of Atlas's side engines to two and consequently made the American ICBM significantly smaller and lighter than the Soviet R-7.

Figure 15.9 (from: M. Gruntman, Blazing the Trail. The Early History of Spacecraft and Rocketry, AIAA, Reston, Va., 2004).
The first Soviet ICBM R-7 was significantly larger and heavier than the first American ICBM Atlas. The modified R-7 deployed the first artificial Earth satellite Sputnik and later launched the first cosmonaut Yurii Gagarin. The first American satellite Explorer I was put into orbit by the Juno-1, a variant of the Jupiter C modified for satellite launch. By the end of 1958, all three shown American rockets, Juno-1, Vanguard, and modified Atlas, launched satellites into Earth orbit. Figure courtesy of Mike Gruntman.

Korolev rushed the development of the R-7. The first nonflight model of the missile arrived to the Tyuratam test site for training of the ground crews in December 1956. The first flight model followed on 3 March 1957. Everything was now ready for the ICBM test launch on a full range. The target impact area was instrumented 6314 km (3924 miles) away at the Kamchatka Peninsula. Fifteen tracking and observation stations with radars and optical equipment spanned a huge distance across the Soviet Central Asia and Siberia to monitor the flight.

The first launch of the R-7 was attempted on 15 May 1957. The service crews did not have experience in handling such a large and complex rocket and prelaunch ground testing lasted almost ten days. Tests of the electrical systems alone took more than 110 hours. The ambitious first test flight was nominal during the first 70 s. The later report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR stated that

beginning with the 97th second [of flight], large angular deviations of the rocket [orientation] appeared because of the loss of control due to fire in the tail section of one of the side engines which had begun from the moment of the launch. Because of this development, the engines were automatically shut down . at the 103th second of flight. (Derevyashkin and Baichurin 2000, 68)

The rocket fell 400 km (250 miles) downrange. The cause of the fire was traced down to a leak in a kerosene fuel pipe. The evaluation of the rocket failure involved examination of the telemetry recorded on oscilloscope photographic films 20 km long.

The second R-7 test launch was scheduled for 11 June 1957, and was tried, unsuccessfully, three times. Frozen liquid-oxygen valves aborted the first two attempts. Then, the incorrectly mounted valve for nitrogen purge of liquid-oxygen pipes led to failure. The rocket was safely removed from the launching pad and returned to the assembly building.

The third launch was attempted on 12 July. The liftoff was again successful, but the rocket was destroyed after 33 s because of uncontrollable spin caused by the failure of control electronics.

Finally, the fourth launch on 21 August 1957 succeeded, and the R-7 reached its target area at the Kamchatka Peninsula. The simulated warhead did not impact the ground, however, and disintegrated in the atmosphere, although the warhead heat shields were believed to be highly reliable. (Soviet scientist Vsevolod S. Avduevsky directed development of heat shields protecting warheads during atmospheric reentry.) The failure was attributed to a likely collision of the warhead with the rocket second stage after the warhead separated with a too small velocity.

The next successful full-range rocket flight followed on 7 September 1957, but the warhead again disintegrated. The problem was corrected during the next several months by modifying the warhead design and improving the separation system, which included an increase in the delay between the main engine cutoff and warhead separation from 6 to 10 s. The first completely successful ICBM flight was finally accomplished on 29 March 1958.

Six days after the first full-range flight of the R-7 on 21 August 1957, the official Soviet news agency, TASS, declared to the world that the USSR had demonstrated the ICBM. Simultaneously, the successful recent nuclear tests were also announced. The Soviet Union had thus realized the nuclear-tipped ICBM. The first unit armed with the R-7 ICBMs, called SS-6 in the West, was declared operational in December 1959. At the same time, a new branch of the Soviet armed forces, the Strategic Rocket Forces, was activated. On 20 January 1960, the Soviet Army formally accepted the R-7 for deployment and combat duty.

While concentrating on the development of the R-7 ICBM, Korolev continued to advocate launching an artificial Earth-orbiting satellite. Tikhonravov, whose group worked on the satellite since 1948 and who later would become a scientific advisor to the satellite design program, aided Korolev with the "scientific ammunition" for lobbying on behalf of this idea. In 1954 Korolev forwarded Tikhonravov's report “About Artificial Earth Satellite” to the government requesting the permission to establish a special research department in his design bureau focused on the satellite problem.

The Soviet military were not particularly thrilled by the satellite and understandably worried that it might distract Korolev's resources from achieving the ICBM. In July and August of 1955, both the United States and the Soviet Union announced their plans to launch scientific satellites as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) scheduled for an 18-month period from July 1957 to December 1958. After these announcements, Soviet officials periodically confirmed the plans to launch a satellite. The Soviet government decree of 30 January 1956 put the Korolev's program in high gear by directing him to design, build, and launch an artificial satellite using a modified R-7 rocket.

The Korolev's satellite, called Object D, was designed to have a total mass 1000–1400 kg (2200–3090 lb), including 200–300 kg (440–660 lb) of scientific payload, and be powered by body-mounted solar cells. The initial launch plans were soon in danger, however, because the R-7's engines demonstrated specific impulse only 304 s in vacuum instead of the projected 309 s. In addition, the development of the scientific payload quickly fell behind the schedule. The new launch date was fixed for the spring 1958.

Knowing about the announced American program to launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year, Korolev's OKB-1 proposed to quickly launch — in order to beat the American competition — a much simpler and much lighter satellite. On 5 January 1957, Korolev wrote to the USSR Council of Ministers asking for the permission to launch such a satellite. To obtain a positive decision on his request, Korolev was pushing all the “hot buttons” in the Kremlin, emphasizing the progress of the rival American program. The Soviet government acted promptly and approved the OKB-1's proposal on 15 February 1957. The new satellite was called Object PS, (Prosteishii Sputnik), or the simplest satellite. (In Russian, sputnik literally means a fellow traveler or a travel companion.) The development of the originally planned Object D also continued, and it would ultimately be launched on 15 May 1958, as Sputnik 3, with mass 1327 kg (2924 lb) and operated for 692 days.

The new PS-1 was built as a hermetically sealed sphere with a diameter 58 cm (22.8 in.) and pressurized by dry nitrogen at 1.3 atm (19 psi). Two pairs of antennas were 2.4 m (7.9 ft) and 2.9 m (9.5 ft) long. The radio-system transmitter had 1 W of power and sent signals with the duration 0.4 s alternatively at 7.5-m and 15-m wavelengths (approximately 40 and 20 MHz). Three silver-zinc batteries provided power for the satellite and were expected to last for two weeks.

The top-level breakdown of the satellite total mass of 83.6 kg (184.3 lb) was as follows: structure — 13.9 kg (30.6 lb), antennas — 8.4 kg (18.5 lb), and payload — 58.4 kg (128.7 lb). The spacecraft power unit, with mass 51.0 kg (112.4 lb), accounted for 87% of the payload mass.

Launched from Tyuratam on 4 October 1957, the SP-1 has reached the orbit together with the sustainer stage of the rocket. The side sections of the modified R-7 separated from the sustainer on the 116th second of the flight. The main engine of the sustainer, or the second stage, was cut off at an altitude 228.6 km (142.1 miles). The satellite separated from the rocket 20 s later on the 315th second after launch. In addition to 2.73-m/s (9-ft/s) separation velocity, the rocket body was slowed down a little by venting gas remaining in the oxidizer tanks through valves opened in the forward direction.

The Sputnik launch direction followed the trajectory of the ICBM test flights toward Klyuchi at the Kamchatka Peninsula, resulting in an orbit with inclination 65 deg. It was the fifth launch of the R-7 and the first space launch. The first artificial satellite of the Earth, SP-1 or Sputnik 1, had thus been born, and the Russian word "sputnik" entered many languages.

Sputnik orbital parameters Planned Achieved

Perigee altitude, km (mile) 228 (142) 228 (142)

Apogee altitude, km (mile) 1450 (901) 947 (589)

Period, minute 101.5 96.2

The year 1957 was the year of solar maximum of the 11-year solar cycle. Solar activity reaches maximum during this phase of the cycle, and the enhanced solar output in the X-ray and extreme ultraviolet spectral ranges heats the upper atmosphere and ionosphere to the highest temperatures during the 11-year period. As a result, the atmosphere expands outwards, increasing aerodynamic drag on satellites in low-Earth orbit and consequently reducing their lifetime.

Fig. 15.30 (from: M. Gruntman, Blazing the Trail. The Early History of Spacecraft and Rocketry, AIAA, Reston, Va., 2004).
Comparative sizes and masses of the first three Earth satellites, Sputnik 1, Explorer 1, and Vanguard 1. Figure courtesy of Mike Gruntman.

The initial perigee of the Sputnik orbit was rather low at an altitude 228 km (142 miles), and the atmospheric drag was correspondingly high. To make things worse, solar maximum in 1957 was characterized by an unusually high solar activity, much higher than typically observed during solar maxima. As a result, the satellite stayed in orbit only until 4 January 1958, making 1440 revolutions. The rocket sustainer stage made 882 revolutions and reentered the atmosphere on 2 December 1957.

Two new artificial stars thus appeared in the sky. The substantially larger sustainer was seen as a 100 times brighter object in the night sky, and it was much easier to observe it by the naked eye than the barely visible Sputnik. Apparent visual magnitudes of the R-7 sustainer stage and Sputnik were m = +1 and +6, respectively. (The scale of stellar magnitudes assigns smaller values m to brighter stars. The average unaided eye would see stars with apparent visual magnitudes m = +5 and brighter, i.e., m < + 5, under typical conditions.)

The frequencies of Sputnik's transmitter, 20 and 40 MHz, came as a surprise to scientists and engineers because these frequencies were different from the 108 MHz (wavelength 2.77 m) agreed upon by the IGY's committees. Consequently, the Minitrack tracking stations being prepared and deployed for the American satellite program were not able, initially, to track Sputnik. The engineers and technicians improvised and did their best to quickly design, build, and deploy new antennas and to adjust electronic equipment. By mid-October, several American stations already tracked Sputnik, and the whole Minitrack network was ready when the second Soviet satellite, Sputnik 2, was launched in early November.

Chapter 15. The Breakthrough – List of figures (significantly abridged captions)

Fig. 15.1. Air Force Colonel Mikhail K. Tikhonravov, ca. 1951.
Fig. 15.2. The first ICBM R-7 at the Tyuratam missile test range in May–June 1957.
Fig. 15.3. Sergei P. Korolev was the main driving force behind the first ICBM, first artificial satellite, first manned spaceflight, and many other first Soviet satellite systems.
Fig. 15.4. The R-7 ICBM being readied for launch at Tyuratam in May–June 1957.
Fig. 15.5. First artificial satellite Sputnik 1.
Fig. 15.6. Chief designers of space systems on 4 October 1957, in Tyuratam, after the launch of the first artificial satellite of the Earth, Sputnik.
Fig.15.7. The Energia–Buran vehicle combination engraved on the tombstone of Valentin P. Glushko.
Fig. 15.8. Monuments to Sergei P. Korolev and Mstislav V. Keldysh in Moscow.
Fig. 15.9. Comparative sizes of R-7, Atlas, Juno-1 (a variant of the Jupiter C), and Vanguard.
Fig. 15.10. Vostok rocket that launched the first man into space.
Fig.15.11. First cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin in Tyuratam on 12 June 1963.
Fig. 15.12. Redstone and Jupiter C missiles.
Fig. 15.13. Donald A. Quarles, 1894–1959, being sworn in as Secretary of the Air Force on 15 August 1955.
Fig. 15.14. Director of Project Vanguard Dr. John P. Hagen with the staff members of Project Vanguard.
Fig. 15.15. Project engineer Donald J. Markarian and operations manager N. Elliot Felt, Jr.
Fig. 15.16. Launch sequence of the three-stage Vanguard rocket.
Fig. 15.17. Minitrack station near Quito, Ecuador.
Fig. 15.18. Baby satellite (Vanguard I).
Fig. 15.19. Juno 1, a modified Jupiter C rocket with an elongated Redstone as the first stage ready for launch of the first U.S. satellite Explorer I on 31 January 1958.
Fig. 15.20. Second and third stages of Jupiter C.
Fig. 15.21. An attempt to launch the Vanguard test vehicle TV-3 ends in failure on 6 December 1957 at Cape Canaveral.
Fig. 15.22. Members of the Army team with a model of Explorer I.
Fig. 15.23. Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory William H. Pickering (1910–2004) holds a prototype of the Army satellite Explorer I, December 1957.
Fig. 15.24. Explorer I satellite with the fourth-stage scaled-down Sergeant rocket, January 1958.
Fig. 15.25. Juno 1 on a launching pad on 31 January 1958.
Fig. 15.26. A model of Explorer I displayed by jubilant William H. Pickering (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), James A. Van Allen (State University of Iowa), and Wernher von Braun (Army Ballistic Missile Agency).
Fig. 15.27. Simple model of Explorer I.
Fig. 15.28. This perfect launch from Cape Canaveral on 17 March 1958 deployed the Vanguard I satellite in orbit and demonstrated the new space launch vehicle.
Fig. 15.29. NRL personnel on the top of the gantry crane with the Vanguard I satellite at Cape Canaveral in early 1958.
Fig. 15.30. Comparative sizes and masses of the first three Earth satellites, Sputnik 1, Explorer I, and Vanguard I.
Fig. 15.31. Timeline of major developments on the road to the ICBM and first satellites.
Fig. 15.32. T. Keith Glennan, 1905–1995, became the first NASA administrator in 1958.
Fig. 15.33. A 100-ft (30.5-m)-diam passive communication satellite Echo I during the inflation test in 1959.
Fig. 15.34. The original seven Mercury astronauts were selected in 1959.
Fig. 15.35. Alan B. Shepard in the Freedom-7 Mercury spacecraft before launch on 5 May 1961.
Fig. 15.36. President John F. Kennedy with Wernher von Braun, 19 May 1963.

Origins of Soviet ICBM. Mikhail Tikhonravov. Rocket packet. R-7 ICBM. Engines of Valentin Glushko. Vassilii Mishin and rocket suspension. Sergei Korolev. R-7 and Atlas. Difficult launches. Disintegrated warhead. Grigorii Kisunko. R-7 (SS-6) deployed. Artificial satellite. International Geophysical Year (IGY). Object D. "We are asking for permission . " Simplest satellite PS. Launch on 4 October 1957. Sputnik in orbit. Korolev under his real name. Two new stars. Chief designers of space systems. Unexpected Sputnik's radio frequencies. Crowning achievement. Rivalry in rocket and space establishment. Glushko's Energia-Buran. Veil of secrecy. Chief Designer Sergei Korolev and Chief Theoretician Mstislav Keldysh. Beginning of the R-7 Semyorka. Loadstar speaking for socialism. American reaction to Sputnik. Poor state of science education. Space Pearl Harbor. Soviet and American education and science. Chose to remain uninformed. Sputnik impact underestimated. Lack of priority. Chosen to be beaten. Object D launched. American rockets close the gap. Manned spaceflight. Soviet Vostok program. First man in space - Yurii Gagarin. Tireless care of Communist Party. Explorer and Vanguard. IGY. Project Orbiter. NRL proposal. Killian Report. President’s announcement and Soviet response. Stewart Committee. Selection of Vanguard and termination of Orbiter. NRL and Martin teams. New launch vehicle. Power plant. Comprehensive program. Minitrack. Worldwide network. Predecessor of STDN. Optical tracking system. Precise time. Computers for satellite tracking. Scientific instruments. Success of TV-0 and TV-1. Baby satellite. Solar cells. Attention focuses on Vanguard. Jupiter C. Hydyne. 20 September 1956. "Missed the boat in 1956." TV-3 explodes. Army leaders at Redstone. Medaris charges ahead. Microlock. Discovery of radiation belts. Micrometeorite sensors. Passive thermal control. Spacecraft spin. Explorer 1 in orbit. Evolution of Explorer 1 spin axis. Dancing in the streets of Huntsville. Vanguard 1 in orbit. The oldest man-made object in orbit. Birth of NASA. Freedom of space accepted. National space effort. Presidential science advisor. National debate. Scientific-technological elite. National Aeronautics and Space Act. T. Keith Glennan. NACA centers. Transfer o f JPL. Marshall Space Flight Center. Beltsville Space Center. Science and applications. Communication satellites. Echo satellites. Manned Spacecraft Center. Seven Mercury astronauts. Space report card for 1960. Kennedy challenges the nation. "I believe we should go to the Moon."

How Sputnik Changed America

The year was 1957, the date was Oct. 4 and Americans everywhere were looking up. Something new was in the stars, something never before seen.

What they were seeing was Sputnik, a 22-inch, 184-pound, man-made satellite, which the Soviet Union launched into space.

A full-scale replica hangs today at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, where Von Hardesty works as a curator.

"When you think about the context of 1957, for the first time, something created by human beings had been thrust out of this well of gravity and put into orbit," Hardesty told Sunday Morning host Charles Osgood. "And to see that thing streak across the sky, it would just leave you in awe."

But awe was not the only thing Americans felt. With the Cold War in full swing, Russia had succeeded where the United States had only been making plans, and many Americans were appalled.

"We were caught off guard," Hardesty said. "And of course Eisenhower took a lot of the heat for that because although he tried to reassure the country, everything he said seemed to exude complacency, inertia and inactivity."

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"Now as far as the satellite itself is concerned, that doesn't raise my apprehensions one iota, except as I pointed out it does definitely prove the possession by the Russian scientists of a very powerful threat," Eisenhower told the American people.

"There was such great uncertainty about the military implications of the launch," Hardesty said. "The '50s was filled with a lot of Cold War mentality and fears. Fear of the bomb."

David Hoffman has just finished directing a documentary called "Sputnik Mania", where fear is a prevailing theme.

"I can't think of a time where we were that afraid, even at Pearl Harbor, even at 9/11," he said. "This was a frightening time."

But what was frightening for adults was actually inspiring for many kids. The 1999 film "October Sky" depicts a generation obsessed with launching rockets.

"All over America, boys by the thousands wanted to help America win, beat the Russians," Hoffman said. "How were they going to do it? Launch rockets. And they built effectively pipe bombs with wings."

Back in the classroom, those same kids encountered a school system suddenly in flux, thanks to a growing paranoia that Soviet education was superior.

"When I was in college, I read a Life Magazine account and they made that contrast," Hoffman said. "They went to some high school in Chicago, I believe, and showed my generation out there - dancing and all the frivolity. And then the Soviet student is shown working at his desk on calculus at midnight, with a light bulb over his head. Our entire educational structure changed. There were programs in schools that didn't exist before. There was homework assignments by the hours a night. There were special classes for smart kids."

With science and space travel a new priority, the next American president was quick to make bold promises.

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goals before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth," President John F. Kennedy told the American people.

Daniel Schorr has a unique perspective on Sputnik. He watched events unfold from Moscow, where he was then reporting for CBS News.

"I very soon realized that it sent a profound shudder through the populace" he said. "The United States has never been caught napping that way again."

David Hoffman agrees. Though the age of Sputnik was dark and fearful, he says, its legacy is one of hope and possibility.

"It's really an impressive story of how we turned a negative into a positive," he said. "We won the space race. We built miniaturized objects that became cell phones and GPS systems. We built the Internet. And at the end of the day, there is no Soviet Union."

Education experts said Oct. 4 that the United States may be overdue for a science education overhaul like the one undertaken after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite 50 years ago, and predicted that a window for change may open as the Iraq war winds down.

Though Sputnik was a relatively simple satellite compared with the more complex machines to follow, its beeping signal from space galvanized the United States to enact reforms in science and engineering education so that the nation could regain technological ground it appeared to have lost to its Soviet rival.

Sputnik’s radio signal highlighted not only the fact that the Soviet Union had beaten the United States into space, it also made it clear the Soviets possessed rocket technology strong enough to launch nuclear bombs at the United States.

Speakers at Thursday’s panel discussion about the educational impact of the Sputnik launch, sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), said that the nation responded to the security threat by targeting education, a reaction it has repeated since, including after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The post-Sputnik reforms were put in the hands of scientists, much to the dismay of some educators and concerned citizens who had previously had enormous input on curriculum design. Several of the changes, such as including hands-on laboratory experience, remain in use today, the speakers said.

The Oct. 4 panel included Frank Baumgartner, professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University John Rudolph, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Tina Grotzer, assistant professor of education at HGSE. It was hosted by Harvard doctoral students Brent Maddin and Rebecca Miller.

Maddin said that Sputnik woke the nation up, serving as a “focusing event” that put a spotlight on a national problem. In this case, he said, the problem was education. Congress responded a year later with the National Defense Education Act, which increased funding for education at all levels, including low-interest student loans to college students, with the focus on scientific and technical education.

Miller said that pattern has been repeated in the decades since, including post-9/11 and more recently, with a focus not on terrorism, but on global economic competition.

“Decades after Sputnik burned in the atmosphere, we’re still talking about science education as a means of security,” Miller said.

While Sputnik may have been a focusing event, Rudolph said changes to the U.S. educational system had been in the works for years. Education reforms began in the early 1950s and were spurred by investment from the National Science Foundation. Perhaps more significant than Sputnik, he said, were two events in 1955, the publication of a book on “Soviet Professional Manpower” and the Soviet detonation of the hydrogen bomb.

In 1957, Rudolph said, Sputnik’s launch further embarrassed the nation, shocking it into action.

“We were getting outworked by conscientious, dedicated Russian students,” Rudolph said. “The launch revealed missile technology that could deliver a bomb to the U.S. … Sputnik raised the stakes.”

While Rudolph said it may be time for another round of reforms, Baumgartner said that that was far easier said than done.

Baumgartner said the political agenda is crowded these days, and it is difficult to get politicians to focus on any particular issue. The Iraq war and the war on terror take up not only a lot of politicians’ time and energy, they do the same for the public, limiting the attention citizens pay to issues such as education reform.

Still, he said, government typically grows during wartime and then shrinks again when wars end, but never back to the prewar level. That presents an opportunity when a conflict ends to not only get reforms enacted, but to get them funded.

Baumgartner cautioned, however, that education is an issue in which many are interested. A national debate over education reform will draw many players into the arena, some of whom have conflicting agendas.

“There’re a lot of people in America that don’t like science,” Baumgartner said. “You have to be careful what you wish for when something like education rises to the front pages. Not only scientists respond. Others who have very serious agendas and political power [are also interested].”

Education reform may be easier to pass in legislation than to realize in the classroom, Grotzer said. Teaching science is challenging, requiring debunking common misconceptions and conceptual progressions that require skilled teachers and which take students from a base knowledge to the understanding of higher concepts.

“The very, very best science teachers with very, very deep understanding of scientific concepts often struggle teaching certain concepts to students,” Grotzer said.

Ominous Beeping

Sputnik 1 was launched on this day in history, October 4th, 1957. At the time, it was called a man made moon. The prospect tortured the American psyche. Not only was there government nowhere near putting such a thing into space, but now the Russians had the upper hand.

The tropes of the day were that the Russians could not even build a refrigerator, now they were putting artificial moons into space. What happened?

For years, the news reels and the papers had been confidently telling Americans that the Soviets were backwards peasants. They could build nothing, only destroy. They did not invent, they could only steal. Everyone in the West could rest easy knowing that the Russians were safely confined to their distant wastelands due to technological stupidity.

Now, there was a Russian satellite overhead, peering down on them. It was circling the globe, in the skies overhead and nothing could be done about it.

The result was an American public that felt betrayed, confused and lied to. Obviously, the Soviets were keeping their true potential hidden. Either that, or the United States government had lied to them.

Everyone began thinking that the Soviets were going to start filling the space above their heads with nuclear missiles. Nowhere was going to be safe from the, now seemingly infinite reach, of the Soviet Union. It created a panic that spread from the average middle class Americans sitting around their radios at home, to government officials who were demanding answers from the Eisenhower administration.

As Sputnik 1 circled overhead, people would pour out into the streets at night and try to catch a glimpse of it in the sky. All the while, it was letting off ominous beeping sounds. A repeating radio signal that could clearly be picked up on the ground in the United States.

The sound is well known today because it was the sound that terrified Americans into lurching into the Space Age.

Sputnik , 1957

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1 . The successful launch came as a shock to experts and citizens in the United States , who had hoped that the United States would accomplish this scientific advancement first.

The fact that the Soviets were successful fed fears that the U.S. military had generally fallen behind in developing new technology. As a result, the launch of Sputnik served to intensify the arms race and raise Cold War tensions. During the 1950s, both the United States and the Soviet Union were working to develop new technology. Nazi Germany had been close to developing the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) near the end of the Second World War, and German scientists aided research in both countries in the wake of that conflict. Both countries were also engaged in developing satellites as a part of a goal set by the International Council of Scientific Unions, which had called for the launch of satellite technology during late 1957 or 1958. Over the course of the decade, the United States tested several varieties of rockets and missiles, but all of these tests ended in failure.

The Soviet launch of the first Sputnik satellite was one accomplishment in a string of technological successes. Few in the United States had anticipated it, and even those who did were not aware of just how impressive it would be. At 184 pounds, the Russian satellite was much heavier than anything the United States was developing at the time, and its successful launch was quickly followed by the launch of two additional satellites, including one that carried a dog into space. Together, these orbited the earth every 90-minutes and created fear that the United States lagged far behind in technological capability. These concerns were compounded when the United States learned that the Soviet Union also tested the first intercontinental ballistic missile that year.

Watch the video: The Sputnik 1 Launch: The First Artificial Satellite To Enter Earths Orbit. Mach. NBC News (July 2022).


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