Thursday, October 4, 2007


Glory to the Soviet Science!
Unknown artist, 1957

The United States now sleeps under a Soviet moon.
Nikita Khrushchyov - the leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin

50 years ago on October 4 1957 Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into geocentric orbit of the Earth. This ended Sputnik Race between USSR and the USA. In 1955 U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower announced that the USA would launch its satellite in 1957. The Soviet officials picked up the gauntlet and gave green light to the Soviet Sputnik Program. The main inspirer of sputnik launch was Sergei Korolev – the father of all soviet space missions. He proposed soviet ballistic missile R7 as a rocket carrier. R7 was developed in 1953-1957 with its first successful launch on August 21, 1957 only a month and a half before the version with Sputnik on board. So Sputnik-1 turned out to be another by-product of military science.

R7 – a 34 m long, 280 ton two stage rocket managed to carry the 83 kg Sputnik-1 to the orbit with apoapsis of 940 km above surface. Not a particularly hard task for a rocket with a payload of 5.300 kg. Nevertheless the sputnik itself caused a great stir in the world. Especially this hurt the USA: during the Cold war Soviet science was always portrayed as inferior and undeveloped, and the launch proved quite the opposite. Also this was a direct threat to USA’s security as there was a soviet object flying over the American territory beyond the reach of the USA. But this was a purely physiological threat as Sputnik-1 carried only radio transmitters on board. It was a 585mm diameter sphere, made of 2mm polished aluminum alloy, so that the glitter could be observed from the ground. He had four antennas between 2.4 and 2.9 meters, which were transmitting recurring radio-signal. The frequency was deliberately chosen so that radio hams around the world could pick it up – resulting in stronger reaction.

Listen to the signal record here:

The Soviet Sputnik-1 was a remarkable achievement. United States managed to launch their first satellite “Explorer-1” only in 1958, with weight six times less than the Sputnik’s. But although the Sputnik Race was won, the Cold War was in full swing and both countries were doing its best to slap the opponent in the face. The climax was reached in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world was on the brink of the nuclear war, which could be fought with the same missiles that transported the first artificial object in space – Sputnik-1.

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