During 1957 to 1958, the Soviet Union and the United States held an International Geophysics Year to promote the study and understanding of the Earth. Note that the Geophysical Year actually lasted 18 months.
The Soviets responded by launching the Sputnik 1 satellite on October 4, 1957. This was the first artificial satellite ever launched.
The satellite weighed 184 pounds. It was 23 inches in diameter. It was spherical and made from steel.
It sent out a "beep-beep" radio signal through its four antennas. The signal was received by scientists and ham radio operators throughout the world. The signal continued until the transmitter batteries ran out on October 26, 1957.
Sputnik 1 also had instrumentation to measure the density of the atmosphere.
Sputnik 1 had an elliptical orbit about the Earth, with a perigee of 155 miles and an apogee of 559 miles. The exact distance for each parameter varies slightly from one source to another.
It orbited the Earth once every 96 minutes.
Most people who thought that they saw the Sputnik satellite actually witnessed the spent second stage booster which followed the satellite into orbit.
Sputnik 1 remained in orbit until January 4, 1958. It burned up as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.
The booster rocket for Sputnik was an ICBM called a Semiorka R-7. The launch site was again the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located near the city of Tyuratam in Kazakhstan, close to the Aral Sea.
Sergei Korolev was the leader of the team that developed both the booster and the satellite.
Korolev's team drew heavily upon German rocket technology used in World War II. Korolev also drew upon the brilliant theoretical work of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian school teacher. In 1903, Tsiolkovsky had written about the possibilities of multistage boosters fueled by liquid hydrogen and oxygen.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union had captured German engineers and rocket assets at the end of World War II.
Tikhonravov, Keldysh, and Lavrov were three of Korolev's team members who played key roles in the initial planning of the Sputnik satellite.
The lead designer for Sputnik was Mikhail S. Khomyakov. Oleg G. Ivanovskiy was his deputy.
The Sputnik launch was a spectacular propaganda victory for the Soviet Union and its leader Nikita Khrushchev. Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States at the time. He dismissed the Sputnik as being insignificant. Many Americans, however, considered it as a symbolic nuclear weapon.
Harry Schwartz wrote a long article in the October 6th New York Times titled, "Soviet Science Far Advanced in Many Fields." Schwartz's story was followed by a cartoon showing Sputnik orbiting the Earth. The Sputnik carried a banner titled, "Man's Quest for Knowledge."
The Soviet Union went on to launch a series of additional Sputnik satellites. Sputnik 2, for example, carried a dog into space, named Laika. Sputnik 2 weighed 1120 pounds. It was launched on November 3, 1957. The launch site was again the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located near the city of Tyuratam in Kazakhstan, close to the Aral Sea.
Laika was first living creature to orbit the Earth. Sources describe her as either a mixed-breed or a Husky. She lived for seven days in space, until her oxygen supply was exhausted. Her vital signs were monitored by sensors and transmitted to the Earth via telemetry signals.
The Sputnik 3 satellite was launched on May 15, 1958. Its purpose was to study the ionosphere.
For further information about Sputnik and Sergei Korolev, please read the following book:
Aldrin and McConnell, Men from Earth, Bantam, New York, 1989.
Buzz Aldrin covers the Soviet space program in his book, often referencing another book called Red Star in Orbit by James Oberg.
The first manned space rocket was the Soviet Vostok 1 which launched cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin into orbit on April 12, 1961. This was also a great propaganda victory for the Soviet Union.
The first satellite successfully launched by the United States was Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958. The launch vehicle was a Jupiter-C rocket, which was based on a Redstone ballistic missile. The Jupiter-C is also called Juno-1.

 Books and Videos about the Space Race

The Right Stuff - This film is based on Tom Wolfe's book. It begin's with the story of the Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. It then gives an historical drama about the Mercury space program.

The Dish - Historical drama-comedy about the town of Parkes in New South Wales, Australia. A 1,000-ton radio observatory dish is built in Parkes to relay telemetry, voice, and television signals from the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

A Man on the Moon : The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts

Apollo 13 - Astronaut's Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise make an heroic return to Earth after an internal explosion cripples their Apollo 13 service module. - Starring Tom Hanks. Directed by Ron Howard.

October Sky - Homer H. Hickam Jr. and his friends build and launch models rockets in a West Virginia coal mining town in response to the launch of Sputnik. Based on a true story.

The Rocket Men : Vostok and Voskhod, the First Soviet Space Flights - History of the Soviet space program.

Books and Videos about the Cold War

Atomic Cafe - Director Jayne Loader used government film clips in an expose of the madness and propaganda of the "Duck and Cover" era.

Thirteen Days - Historical drama about President's Kennedy's response to the Cuban missile crisis - Starring Kevin Costner.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - Arguably the greatest black comedy ever made, Stanley Kubrick's cold war classic is the ultimate satire of the nuclear age. - Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickins. Peter Sellers excels in three fine roles--as the Nazi braintrust Dr. Strangelove, as President Merkin Muffley, and RAF officer Lionel Mandrake.

The Russians are Coming - Popular comedy about a Russian submarine that lands off New England coast. Starring Alan Arkin, Eva Marie Saint, Carl Reiner, Brian Keith, and Jonathan Winters.

The Manchurian Candidate - Suspenseful political thriller about a Korean war hero's decoration and his mother's machinations to promote her Joseph McCarthy-like husband's career. Starring Angela Lansbury, and Frank Sinatra.

The Iron Giant - As Sputnik orbits the Earth, Hogarth, a young boy who lives in the Maine woods during the cold war, befriends a giant robot.

WarGames - Teenage computer whiz hacks into a computer system looking for games. He inadvertently causes the system to begin countdown for thermonuclear missile strikes against the Soviet Union. Starring Matthew Broderick.

The Day the Earth Stood Still - A flying saucer lands at Washington D.C.An alien named Klaatu and his robot Gort emerge from the saucer. Klaatu warns the people that the Earth will be destroyed if they continue nuclear warfare. The film is very suspenseful. Some critics regard it as the greatest science fiction film ever made despite its lack of special effects.


Please send comments and questions to Tom Irvine at: tomirvine@aol.com
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