Space Exploration Chronology: 1950-1959 | Sputnik: First Satellite | First Dog In Space | NASA Established 1958

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October 1957

Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, first man made satellite, into orbit

Credit: NASA/

Mission launched October 4, 1957
Destination reached October 4, 1957
Objectives Successful insertion of a satellite into the orbit. Sending radio signals back to Earth and implications that open space might have on them. Identify radio and visual methods for monitoring artificial satellites. Determine upper atmosphere's density. Test pressurized satellite concept. Elevate Soviet Union's status as a World Power, demonstrating its technological supremacy.
Results All objectives reached. Propaganda effect was immense.

Sergei Korolev, hailing from central Ukraine, has started the space age, by designing and launching mankind's first artificial satellite into the orbit . People all over the world tuned in their amateur radios to listen to a beeping sound emitted by Sputnik-1. Artificial satellites were envisioned for decades, but most expected United States to be the first country to successfully launch one. Originally a more sophisticated satellite with a lot more scientific instrumenentation on board was planned, but the project was scaled down for a speedy and simple launch. This technological achievement and the man behind it, Sergei Korolyov (Korolev), entered the eternal pages of world history.*

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November 1957

Soviet Union launches Sputnik 2, the first spacecraft to carry a living animal into Earth's orbit

Mission launched November 3, 1957
Destination reached November 3, 1957
Objectives Prove that an animal can survive in Earth's orbit for 10 days. Take measurements of solar radiation (ultraviolet and X-rays) and cosmic rays.
Results Partial success. Laika, the dog, survived for approximaltey 3 days, it died due to overheating of the cabin. Sputnik 2 detected Van Allen radiation belt but Soviet scientists could not detect these signals. Nevertheless, despite an outcry from animal rights groups, Sputnik-2 was seen as a political victory of the USSR in the space race.

Laika was not the first animal in space, but it was the first animal that orbited Earth, previously flies reached suborbital flight. The fate of Laika remains controversial, soviet scientists sent it without any possibility of survival. As was customary in the Soviet Union, major achievements adhered to specific dates in order to commemmorate political holidays. Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier (de facto sole leader), ordered to commemmorate 40th anniversary of the October Revolution with a launch of a new rocket. This was decided only a week after the successful launch of Sputnik 1, leaving scientists no more than three weeks to prepare. It was this timeframe that made it virtually impossible to design a way for Laika to return to Earth. Soviet leader realized that to achieve a new milestone political victory in the Space Race with the United States in such a rapid succession would solidify world's image of the USSR as a leader of the Space Race. The decision was reached to send a first animal into Earth's orbit. Three stray dogs were captured from the streets of Moscow, they were routinely tested and trained. It was argued that stray dogs are naturally more resistant to harsh conditions. Dogs were subjected to simulated conditions of space flight.

Laika was chosen and soon became the first living animal to orbit Earth. While in space, Laika's vital signs were measured and relayed to Earth. There are several competing theories describing Laika's both true and inteded fate. It is certain, however, that she died quicker than it was planned, due to some sort of onboard failure. USSR hailed this a great accomplishments, countries issued postmarks dedicated to Laika and the dog was hailed a hero in the Soviet Union. A brand of cigarrete's and chocolate bars were named in Laika's honor.

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January 31, 1958

First American satellite Explorer 1 discovers the Van Allen radiation belt
Structure of Explorer 1
NASA/courtesy of

Mission launched January 31, 1958
Destination reached January 31, 1958
Objectives Successful launching and operation of the first United States Earth satellite. Catch up in the Space Race with the Soviet Union. Conduct scientific observations of micrometeorite and cosmic rays. Transmit data back to Earth.
Results Explorer 1 detected strong radiation coming from a belt of energetic charged particles contained by the Earth's magnetic field. This torus of plasma is now known as the Van Allen radiation belt. It was named in honor of the designer of the scientific payload of Explorer 1 Dr. James Van Allen of the University of Iowa

Explorer 1 was launched just months after Soviet Sputnik-1 and Sputnik-2, launching the Space Race that would last till the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt was a major scientific event, boosting American reputation in space exploration. Explorer program, which was commenced with this orbiter, still exists to this day.

Mission lasted for 111 days. Explorer 1 finally re-entered Earth's atmosphere on March 31, 1970. You can read more about it by clicking on this link. You may also download a JPL-published booklet on Explorer 1 and the context in which it was launched, by clicking here.

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July 29, 1958

NASA is established, absorbing and eliminating its predecessor, the NACA

President Eisenhower, of the United States, established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, on July 29, 1958. It effectively absorbed National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which existed from March 3, 1915. NASA also incorporated important military assets, relevant to space exploration, particularly the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, which included Wernher von Braun and his team.
Acronym for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration became synonymous with progress and innovation, throughout the later 20th and 21st centuries. NASA is responsible for U.S. civilian efforts in space. It is a government funded organization, headquartered in Washington D.C. For the next half a century, majority of human achievements in space, are going to be conducted under the direction of NASA. Its second administrator (1961-1968), James E. Webb, organized much of the bureaucratic structure of the administration.

Visit official NASA web-site

Read more on the birth of NASA

Read the original act that established NASA

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