The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on 4 October 1957. It orbited for three weeks before its batteries died and then orbited silently for two months before it fell back into the atmosphere. It was a polished metal sphere 58 cm in diameter with four external radio antennas to broadcast radio pulses. Its radio signal was easily detectable by radio amateurs, and the 65° inclination and duration of its orbit made its flight path cover virtually the entire inhabited Earth.

A replica of the Soviet Sputnik I satellite, the world’s first spacecraft, hangs above the UN Visitors Centre / Image: via facebook.com/UNVisitorsCentre

The satellite’s unanticipated success precipitated the American Sputnik crisis and triggered the Space Race, part of the Cold War. The launch was the beginning of a new era of political, military, technological and scientific developments.

Tracking and studying Sputnik 1 from Earth provided scientists with valuable information. The satellite travelled at about 29,000 kilometers per hour, taking 96.2 minutes to complete each orbit. Sputnik burned up on 4 January 1958 while reentering Earth’s atmosphere, after three months, 1440 completed orbits of the Earth, and a distance travelled of about 70 million km.

In 1959, the Soviet Union donated a replica of Sputnik to the United Nations. There are other full-size Sputnik replicas on display in locations around the world, including the Powerhouse Museum in Australia and outside the Russian embassy in Spain.

Full-scale replica of Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite / Image: via collection.maas.museum

Featured Image: Sputnik 1 / Image: via lrsm.upenn.edu

Websites: roscosmos.ru, baikonurtour.com, maas.museum/powerhouse-museum, visit.un.org




 

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