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50 years into the space age


It's hard to believe that the space age began just 50 years ago. On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1, changing the course of history forever. 

The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a basketball, weighed only 183 pounds, and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path.
Today, this kind of procedure is taken almost for granted, but 50 years ago it marked the beginning of the space race and the long-term space ago.
As a technical achievement, Sputnik caught the world's attention. Its size was more impressive than the US's planned Vanguard with its intended 3,5-pound payload. In addition, the public feared that the Soviets' ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the US.
It didn't take long for the Soviets to strike again: on 3 November 1957, Sputnik II was launched, carrying a much heavier payload and the dog Laika.
However the US Defense Department had already responded to the Sputnik 1 launch with funding for another US satellite project, Explorer, led by Wernher von Braun and the Army Redstone Arsenal team.
Explorer 1 was successfully launched on 31 January 1958, carrying a small scientific payload that eventually discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth. The Explorer program continued as a successful ongoing series of lightweight, scientifically useful spacecraft.
 The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with Congress passing the National Aeronautics and Space Act (commonly called the "Space Act") in July 1958.