Sputnik

October 4, 1957 – Soviets Launch Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1

 

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the Space Race with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.  Blasted through the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a two-stage R-7 rocket, Sputnik 1 was a 23-inch diameter, 184 pound, aluminum-magnesium-titanium sheathed sphere with two whip-like antennae.  Powered by silver-zinc batteries, it entered a low, elliptical orbit emitting a radio signal which could be received on Earth by both Soviet scientists and the curious (and highly-alarmed) American public.  Sputnik traveled 18,000 miles per hour, completing an Earth-orbit every 96 minutes.  Radio transmissions continued for 22 days, until transmitter batteries were exhausted.  The history-making satellite spent 3 months in orbit, traveling a total of 37 million miles, before burning up in atmospheric reentry on January 4, 1958.

While not able to conduct as many experiments as the Soviets had initially hoped, Sputnik was able to gather information during its three-month run concerning the density of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere, and meteoroid detection by penetration of the satellite’s outer hull.

The successful launch of an artificial satellite was one of the primary goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), inaugurated on July 1, 1957.  The Soviets had first proposed developing such a satellite on May 27, 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower announced on July 29, 1955 that the United States would send their own version of the technological achievement into space during the IGY.  But Sputnik took America and its government by surprise.  Americans now had to take Soviet scientific abilities much more seriously.  A sense of vulnerability to attack led to panic reactions by the public, as they listened in to Sputnik’s ominous “beep-beep” when it passed directly overhead.  The US government responded with renewed commitment to scientific and technological research, and military and educational program revamping and investment.  ICBMs, missile defense systems, and satellites were all placed on a developmental fast-track.  After several failed attempts, the United States’ first successful launch of its own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, occurred on January 31, 1958.

Numerous references to Sputnik in movies, television shows, and pop songs have made the term part of the American cultural landscape.  Replicas and models of the satellite can be found at the United Nations, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the Science Museum in London.

Image Credit: NASA

July 1, 1957 – The International Geophysical Year Begins

On July 1, 1957, the International Geophysical Year (IGY) began its eighteen-month run.  First proposed by the International Council of Scientific Unions in 1952, the IGY was an ambitious program of coordinated research by the world’s scientists into the mysteries of geophysical phenomenon such as aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, glaciology, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determination, meteorology, oceanography, rocketry, seismology, and solar activity.  Research into Antarctic ice depths yielded a new estimate of the earth’s total ice content.

But the most attention-grabbing goal of the program was the endeavor to launch an artificial satellite into orbit around the earth.  Recent breakthroughs in technology included cosmic ray recorders, spectroscopes, radiosonde balloons, electronic computers – and the rocket.  Exploration of space to pursue scientific knowledge of our solar system was now a real possibility.  By the end of the IGY the world’s superpowers had successfully launched seven satellites, after previous years of setbacks and failures.  The IGY fully achieved its goal to “observe physical phenomena and to secure data from all parts of the world; to conduct this work on a coordinated basis by fields, and in space and time, so that results could be collated in a meaningful manner”.

An uneasy relationship existed between the scientific community and the military establishment at this time.  IGY scientists feared that military preoccupation with launching satellites would detract from other goals.  Scientists also resented that the military held its rocket technology information close to the vest.

National Science Foundation posters, new television programs, and filmstrips for high schools were created by the program to translate the IGY findings for the common man.  Reaction to the first satellite launch took on a good news-bad news aspect.  On the one hand, we could now explore the infinity of space and learn more about our own planet.  On the other, those superpowers who now had satellite capability also had the ability to place nuclear bombs in orbit, threatening mass destruction.

Image Credit: National Academy of Sciences

November 3, 1957 – Sputnik 2 Sends First Living Animal into Orbit

Monument to Laika, Moscow

Monument to Laika, Moscow

On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched their second Sputnik earth satellite from an ICBM R-7 platform.  The 13 foot high, 2 foot diameter capsule contained compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, regeneration and temperature control systems, scientific instruments (including photometers to measure ultraviolet and x-ray solar radiation), and in her own separate padded and pressurized cabin, a part-terrier, part-Samoyed female dog named Laika.  Other than hitchhiker microbes, no living animal had ever blasted off into space before little 13-pound Laika (which meant “Barker” in Russian) went up, fitted with a harness, electrodes to monitor her condition, and supplies of oxygen, food, and water.

With Sputnik 1 still orbiting Earth, transmitting radio signals and ICBM nightmares across the globe, Sputnik 2’s successful launch introduced an even greater level of perceived alarm and threat by Cold War antagonists to the USSR’s new space supremacy.  Sputnik 2 did not carry out its mission entirely as planned, however.  While the satellite-bearing rocket achieved earth orbit, where it successfully jettisoned its nose cone, a portion of the rocket called “Blok A” did not separate, inhibiting the thermal control system.  Vital thermal insulation was torn loose during the nose cone separation as well, and Sputnik’s internal temperatures soon reached 104°F.

Sputnik 2’s fate to burn up in earth atmosphere reentry occurred on April 14, 1958, after 162 days of circling the globe.  The original plan for Laika – painful for all animal-lovers everywhere to contemplate – was for her to provide information for a limited period of time on the effects of space flight on living beings, through monitoring her vital signs.  After ten days, she was to be euthanized by lethal medication-supplemented food.  Once sent into orbit, she could never return.  But after the early loss of her capsule’s thermal insulation, Laika was only able to survive for a few hours before succumbing to the heat and stress.  Her death was a small, but significant tragedy on the road to man’s Race to Space.

Sputnik 2 Module

Sputnik 2 Module. Photo: Raumfahrer.net

October 25, 1957 – The Rocky Mount Evening Telegram News

A Rocky Mount High School student looks over an edition of the Evening Telegram during a 1952 tour of the newspaper's original office on Howard Street. Photo: Rocky Mount Telegram archives

A Rocky Mount High School student looks over an edition of the Evening Telegram during a 1952 tour of the newspaper’s original office on Howard Street. Photo: Rocky Mount Telegram archives

On October 25, 1957, the Friday night edition of the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram reported the news from far and near to the residents of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Published from 1894 until 1966, the Evening Telegram served a community first founded in 1816 and the home, in 1957, of about 28,000 people.

And what would those Rocky Mount residents have seen on the front page when they snapped open the evening news at the start of their weekend? Here are two of the headlines:

 

Reds Launching Could Be Fake

REDLANDS, Calif. (AP)-Russia’s launching of Sputnik may have been a “fake stunt,” says a physicist participating in the U.S. Far Side Project.

Sputnik may have been launched from a balloon–as the Far Side rocket was–instead of using an intercontinental ballistic missile, said Charles E. Bartley.

“As propaganda, the Russian launching is undeniably superb,” Bartley told a group of University of Redlands scientists. “By innuendo, it supports Soviet claims to an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“But objective analysis raises several questions. Sputnik could easily have been launched from a balloon. This would have been possible without employing a large rocket of ICBM magnitude.

He quoted a Russian scientist, Mrs. Anna T. Masevich, vice president of the Soviet Astronautical Council, as saying in Barcelona, Spain, on Oct. 4:

“Newspapers were wrong when they said the satellite weighed 184.3 pounds. I think it is not so heavy.”

Commented Bartley: “Common sense and logic sum up two reasonable suppositions. The Soviet Sputnik more likely weighs 18 pounds and it does not make sense that the Russians would expend a large ICBM rocket, even if they had it, to put that weight into an orbit when a light cluster of efficient small rockets could do the same job from a balloon.”

Bartley is the president of Grand Central Rocket Co., which makes third and fourth stage motors for Far Side rockets.

 

Not Socialized

ASHEVILLE, NC (AP)-Dr. True B. Eveleth of Chicago, executive secretary of the American Osteopathic Assn., has told the North Carolina Osteopathic Society that socialized medicine will never be imposed in the United States.

“Rapidly expanding prepaid hospitalization programs will ultimately circumvent any future possible need of government-controlled medicine,” he told the 53rd annual convention of the society here yesterday.

Dr. Albert G. Moore of Wilmington was elected president, succeeding Dr. T. M. Rowlett of Concord.

 

And at the bottom of the page, the following some-things-never-change item:

DETROIT (AP)-Mrs. Edith Hall told police a thief took $5 from her purse which she had left on the porch of her home while she raked leaves. He threw away the purse, overlooking $2,170 hidden in a secret compartment.