Space Programs

The Sputnik Era

What was the first man-made object to orbit Earth in space?

On October 4, 1957, the former Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into orbit around Earth. It was called Sputnik 1, the Russian word meaning “traveling companion” or “satellite.” During its three months in space, Sputnik 1 orbited the planet once every ninety-six minutes, at a speed of nearly 17,400 miles (28,000 kilometers) per hour. The Soviets’ success caught U.S. engineers—and the American public—by surprise, and launched the so-called “space race” between the two rival world superpowers of that time.


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