Sputnik turns 59: The Beginnings of Space Exploration

Russia’s surprising satellite launch begins the “Space Race”.

October 4th, 1957. The Cold War is apparent in the very fabric of both the American and Russian societies, as Democracy is pitted against its rivaling Communism ideologies. The nations raced against one another through advances in technology and military firepower to prove a clear winner, in terms of a Political-Economic system.

At 10:29pm in early October, Russia launches Sputnik, the first artificial satellite and man-made object to be put into orbit, and establishes itself as the first nation to enter this new frontier and marked the beginning of the “Space Race”.

Sputnik’s launch came as an unpleasant surprise to the U.S. as it viewed Space as the next frontier and the logical next step to keep in line with the American tradition of exploration and discovery. The US quickly got their first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit on January 31, 1958. At this point, Russia had already launched their 2nd Sputnik satellite (which launched a Dog into orbit) and President Eisenhower created NASA, to boost the States’ urgency and focus on space exploration.

In true American fashion, the U.S. puts an end to the “Space Race”.

In May of 1962, President Kennedy announced that the US would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. This resulted in a 500% budget increase from 1961 to 1964 and the creation of the Apollo project. In 1967, the Apollo spacecraft caught fire upon its launch, resulting in a serious setback for NASA and the loss of the 3 astronauts onboard the spacecraft. In December of 1968, Apollo 8 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and became the man-manned mission to orbit the moon.

Lastly, on July 16th, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched and 4 days later it successfully landed on the moon. With this mission, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon. This “small step for man” thus unofficially concluded the Space Race that had begun with Russia’s Sputnik satellite on this day in 1957.