Sputnik Launched on this day 50 Years Ago
Date: Thursday, October 04 @ 19:37:15 MDT
50 years ago the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite. Sputnik went into orbit on Oct. 4, 1957, in the midst of the Cold War. It was a surprise to the world, a devestating shock to the Americans, and the starting gun for the space race between the superpowers. |Read More|
Sputnik 1 was a 585 mm diameter sphere, made of highly polished 2 mm-thick aluminum AMG6T alloy, carrying four whip-like antennas between 2.4 and 2.9 meters in length. It had two radio transmitters (20.005 and 40.002 MHz) and is believed to have orbited Earth at a height of about 250 km (150 mi).
Analysis of the radio signals was used to gather information about the electron density of the ionosphere.
Temperature and pressure were encoded in the duration of radio beeps, which additionally indicated that the
satellite had not been punctured by a meteorite. Sputnik 1 was launched by an R-7 rocket.
The true significance of this event as far as the American military were concerned, was that the Soviets had a launch platform capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the continental US. The USA had believed itself to be the leader space technology and thus the leader in missile development. The surprise Sputnik launch and the failure of the first two U.S. launch attempts proved this was not so.
The Sputnik crisis spurred a whole chain of U.S. initiatives, from large to small, many of them initiated by the Department of Defense.
- On July 29, 1958, President Eisenhower formally brought the U.S. into the Space Race by signing the National Aeronautics and Space Act, creating NASA and later Project Mercury.
- Education programs initiated to foster a new generation of engineers. One of the more remarkable and remembered things that came out of this was the concept of "New Math".
- Dramatically increased support for scientific research. For 1959, Congress increased the National Science Foundation appropriation to $134 million, almost $100 million higher than the year before. By 1968, the NSF budget would stand at nearly $500 million.
- The Polaris missile program.
- Project management as an area of inquiry and an object of much scrutiny, leading up to the modern concept of
project management and standardized project models such as the DoD Program Evaluation and Review Technique, PERT,
invented for Polaris.
- The decision by President Kennedy, who campaigned in 1960 on closing the "missile gap", to deploy 1000 Minuteman
missiles, far more ICBMs than the Soviets had at the time.
The launch of Sputnik represented a massive propaganda coup for the Soviets at a time, followed by more firsts. Spunik 2 was launched on November 3, 1957 carrying the first living passenger into orbit, a dog named Laika. Then on the 12th of April 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to travel into space in Vostok 1.