The first artificial Earth Satellite was the Sputnik 1 spacecraft. It was successfully launched into orbit around the Earth from Baikonur Cosmodrome at Tyuratam in 1957. The Cosmodrome is about 2,500km southeast of Moscow in Kazakhstan which at the time was part of the Soviet Union. The launch was the beginning of the space age and what, in the following decades, came to be known as the space race between the Soviet Union and the USA.
The International Council of Scientific Unions had decided that the period from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958 would be International Geophysical Year (IGY). In 1955 the USA announced that it intended to launch a satellite that would orbit the Earth during that time. Around the same time the Soviet Union made a similar decision. During the previous decade both countries had made big advances in rocket technology. Both countries had also seized rocket knowledge, technology and equipment from defeated Nazi Germany after World War II.
Sputnik was launched using a modified ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) rocket. The satellite itself was a polished metal sphere with a diameter of 58 cm. It had four radio antennae attached which broadcast radio pulses during orbit. During its time in orbit Sputnik 1 was visible in the night sky. Travelling at a speed of 8km/s it took 96.2 minutes to orbit the Earth. Its orbit was elliptical being 940km from the Earth at its farthest point and 230km at its nearest.
The successful launch caught the attention of the world. Transmissions from Sputnik were monitored with intense interest. The transmitter batteries ran out after twenty one days and Sputnik burned up as it fell to Earth having spent three months in space. It had travelled about 70 million km and orbited the Earth 1,440 times.
Sputnik 1 burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere as it fell from orbit in the year 1958 On This Day.