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