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First Satellites Gallery


The sign accompanying the Sputnik I model. It reads

Sputnik I

The World's First Artificial Satellite

On October 4, 1957, one of the defining moments in human history occurred. The Soviet Union announced it had launched the world's first artificial satellite–Sputnik I.

As the 184-pound spacecraft sailed around the Earth at more than 17,000 m.p.h., the United States could only watch. The U.S. myth of technological and sociological supremacy lay in pieces. And the ones who had shattered this perception were the very people the United States feared the most and understood the least.

The Soviets made sure the United States could not discount Sputnik as simply verbal propaganda. Sunlight reflecting off its polished aluminum sphere made it easily visible to the naked eye as a brilliant star moving among the heavens. It also had a voice–an insistent "beep-beep-beep" transmitted by its battery-powered radio on a frequency that could be picked up by any amateur radio operator.

Sputnik I's message was clear to the United States and the Free World. If the Soviets could launch a satellite into orbit, they could just as easily place a nuclear warhead into orbit as well. Every 96 minutes, as the satellite sailed over some portion of the Free World, it announced that it was "up there," and neither the Americans nor anyone else could do anything about it.

Sputnik's coup had tremendous political repercussions throughout the world. Overnight, the balance of global power shifted from the United States to the Soviet Union. The security blanket against Soviet attack thrown over the Free World by the United States had vanished. The United States had suffered a propaganda setback from which it was not to recover for years. The Cold War intensified and the Space Race was on.

While it is true that Sputnik itself was highly-polished and reflective, what most people saw passing overhead was actually the core (second) stage of the R-7 rocket which launched Sputnik into orbit, which was a much larger object.

Sign accompanying Sputnik I model in First Satellites exhibit at Kansas Cosmosphere
Time picture taken Thu Apr 14 14:09:24 2016
Location picture taken Cold War Gallery
Space Hall
Kansas Cosmosphere
Hutchinson, KS
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