The Day That Triggered The Space Race Ignored 60 Years On

The anniversary of the launch of the Earth’s first man-made satellite that triggered the space race has passed with barely a whimper.

Sputnik 1 was fired into orbit on October 4, 1957.

Sputnik – which loosely translates from the Russian as ‘fellow traveller’ – whizzed around the skies at 18,000 miles per hour for three weeks.

Each orbit took 97 minutes and ground stations tracked the satellite’s progress from regular radio transmissions.

Sputnik’s batteries ran out after 21 days.

The satellite eventually burned up re-entering the atmosphere on January 4, 1958.

Crude device by modern standards

However, space enthusiasts can see replicas of the original.

At least five Sputniks were built to provide back-ups.

One is on display by appointment only in a corporate museum in Russia. Another is at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, USA. Two more are believed to be in private collections in America.

Other replicas exist, but were not designed as satellites.

By modern standards, Sputnik was a crude device. Measuring 58 cm in diameter, the sphere contained two radio transmitters, a temperature regulator and batteries.

Most of the 184-pound weight was taken up by the batteries.

The launch ushered a new era of science and technology leading to the manned moon landings and beyond.

Sputnik spurred race to the moon and beyond

The world has Sputnik to thank for opening the way for trips to all the planets in the solar system and Voyager 1’s epic flight beyond the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the limit of the sun’s magnetic field and the boundary that sets the solar system apart from the rest of the galaxy.

The space race led to a fundamental shift in education in many developed countries as money was poured into engineering and mathematics.

The world was taken by surprise when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik as they did not believe that Russia had the technology and finance to accomplish such a feat.

Sputnik spurred the USA to develop the Apollo project which eventually led to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon in July 1969. Since then, 10 other astronauts have set foot on the moon.

Alan Shepard has the unique honour of being the first American in space and one of the small group to have walked on the moon.