Image of Sputnik satellite.
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National Air and Space Museum
The Soviet Sputnik program consisted of four satellites, three of which reached Earth orbit.
Sputnik 1, launched on Oct.4, 1957, became the first artificial satellite to successfully orbit the Earth. It was a metallic sphere about 2 feet across, weighing 184 lbs (84 kg), with long "whiskers" pointing to one side, and stayed in orbit for 6 months before falling back to Earth. Its rocket booster, weighing 4 tons, also reached orbit and was easily visible from the ground.
The second Sputnik satellite was launched on Nov 3, 1957 and carried a dog, named Laika, into space. Biological data was returned for a week before the animal had to be put to sleep.
The last Sputnik installment was intended to be a space laboratory for study of Earth's magnetic field and radiation belt. After its launch on May 15, 1958, it remained in orbit for nearly two years.
The Sputnik missions all happened during the midst of the Cold War between the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Americans became worried about the Soviet accomplishments and soon the development of space technology became a national priority.
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