Digital History
Soviet Fires Satellite into Space
Digital History ID 1121


Annotation: In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite. The 184-pound 22.5-inch sphere orbited the earth once every 96 minutes. Sputnick transmitted radio signals for 21 days and later burned up in the earth's atmosphere. A second Spunik, launched in November 1957, carried a dog named Laika. This satellite weighed a thousand pounds.

In December, the United States made its first attempt at a satellite launch. A Navy Vanguard rocket, carrying a payload only one-fortieth the size of Sputnik, lifted a few feet off of its launch pad before falling back to earth. It exploded in a ball or orange flames and black smoke. Premier Krushchev boasted that "America sleeps under a Soviet moon." Because Sputnik was launched on an intercontinental ballistic missile, Soviet leaders cited it as proof that they could deliver hydrogen bombs at will.

Sputnik's launch meant that the Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the United States would take place not only on earth but in outer space. Americans, who thought of themselves as the world's technology pacesetters, felt vulnerable, a sensation reinforced in 1959, when the Soviet Union fired the first rockets to circle the moon and bring back pictures of its dark side. In April 1961, the Soviets launched the first manned space ship into orbit, piloted by 27-year-old Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In 1966, the Soviets were the first to land an unmanned vehicle on the moon.

Sputnik led Congress to pass a series of massive federal aid-to-education measures. Science became a priority in schools and universities. Soviet space successes led President John F. Kennedy to tell a joint session of Congress in May 1961 that the United States would land a man on the moon and bring him home by the end of the 1960s.

Document: Moscow, Saturday, Oct. 5--The Soviet Union announced this morning that it successfully launched a man-made earth satellite into space yesterday.

The Russians calculated the satellite's orbit at a maximum of 560 miles above the earth and its speed at 18,000 miles an hour.

The official Soviet news agency Tass said the artificial moon, with a diameter of twenty- two inches and a weight of 184 pounds, was circling the earth once every hour and thirty- five minutes. This means more than fifteen times a day.

Two radio transmitters, Tass said, are sending signals continuously on frequencies of 20.005 and 40.002 megacycles. These signals were said to be strong enough to be picked up by amateur radio operators. The trajectory of the satellite is being tracked by numerous scientific stations.

Due Over Moscow Today

Tass said the satellite was moving at al angle of 65 degrees to the equatorial plane and would pass over the Moscow area twice today.

"Its flight," the announcement added, "will be observed in the rays of the rising and setting sun with the aid of the simplest optical instruments, such as binoculars and spy- glasses."

The Soviet Union said the world's first satellite was "successfully launched" yesterday. Thus it asserted that it had put a scientific instrument into space before the United States. Washington has disclosed plans to launch a satellite next spring, Oct. 4."

The Moscow announcement said the Soviet Union planned to send up more and bigger and heavier artificial satellites during the current International Geophysical Year, an eighteen-month period of study of the earth, its crust and the space surrounding it.

Five Miles a Second

The rocket that carried the satellite into space left the earth at a rate of five miles a second, the Tass announcement said. Nothing was revealed, however, concerning the material of which the man-made moon was constructed or the site in the Soviet Union where the sphere was launched.

The Soviet Union said its sphere circling the earth had opened the way to inter-planetary travel.

It did not pass up the opportunity to use the launching for propaganda purposes. It said in its announcement that people now could see how "the new socialist society" had turned the boldest dreams of mankind into reality.

Moscow said the satellite was the result of years of study and research on the part of Soviet scientists.

Several Years of Study

Tass said:

"For several years the research and experimental designing work has been under way in the Soviet Union to create artificial satellites of the earth. It has already been reported in the press that the launching of the earth satellites in the U. S. S. R. had been planned in accordance with the program of International Geophysical Year research.

"As a result of intensive work by the research institutes and design bureaus, the first artificial earth satellite in the world has now been created. This first satellite was successfully launched in the U. S. S. R. October four."

The Soviet announcement said that as a result of the tremendous speed at which the satellite was moving it would burn up as soon as it reached the denser layers of the atmosphere. It gave no indication how soon that would be.

Military experts have said that the satellites would have no practicable military application in the foreseeable future. They said, however, that study of such satellites could provide valuable information that might be applied to flight studies for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The satellites could not be used to drop atomic of hydrogen bombs or anything else on the earth, scientists have said. Nor could they be used in connection with the proposed plan for aerial inspection of military forces around the world.

An Aid to Scientists

Their real significance would be in providing scientists with important new information concerning the nature of the sun, cosmic radiation, solar radio interference and static- producing phenomena radiating from the north and south magnetic poles. All this information would be of inestimable value for those who are working on the problem of sending missiles and eventually men into the vast reaches of the solar system.

Publicly, Soviet scientists have approached the launching of the satellite with modesty and caution. On the advent of the International Geophysical Year last June they specifically disclaimed a desire to "race" the United States into the atmosphere with the little sphere.

The scientists spoke understandingly of "difficulties" they had heard described by their American counterparts. They refused several invitations to give any details about their own problems in designing the satellite and gave even less information than had been generally published about their work in the Soviet press.

Hinted of Launching

Concerning the launching of their first satellite, they said only that it would come "before the end of the geophysical year"--by the end of 1958.

Several weeks earlier, however, in a guarded interview given only to the Soviet press, Alexander N. Nesmeyanov, head of the Soviet Academy of Science, dropped a hint that the first launching would occur "within the next few months."

But generally Soviet scientists consistently refused to boast about their project or to give the public or other scientists much information about their progress. Key essentials concerning the design of their satellites, their planned altitude, speed and instruments to be carried in the small sphere, were carefully guarded secrets.

Copyright 2016 Digital History