Sputnik launched 50 years ago

This Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the USSR’s launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite sent into space.

Weighing 183 pounds and launched over 500 miles into space, Sputnik orbited Earth in just over 90 minutes. The satellite was equipped with two radio transmitters, which sent information to Russian scientists over the course of three weeks.

On Earth, people could hear the satellite beeping as it sent radio signals back to Earth. The satellite left orbit three months after its launch into space.

In the U.S., the launch of Sputnik I raised concerns about the technological capabilities of the USSR, America’s Cold War adversary. The ability to launch a satellite into space suggested that the USSR might also be able to launch nuclear missiles at the U.S.

Te launch of Sputnik I spurred the beginning of the Space Age, a time during which the United States and USSR competed for superiority in space exploration.

After one failed attempt at launching a satellite into space, the U.S. launched Explorer I in January 1958, several months after Sputnik I. The satellite used on-board instrumentation to measure radiation levels surrounding Earth.

The U.S. also created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 in response to Sputnik. The Eisenhower  administration formed NASA for the purpose of advancing non-military space missions.

The USSR launched a second satellite, Sputnik II, about one month after Sputnik I. Sputnik II was the first spacecraft to have a passenger on board — a dog named Laika. The dog died shortly after the spacecraft’s launch due to overheating.