The Soviet Union fires the starting gun of the space race with its launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial Earth satellite.
Soviet radio reported that the artificial moon, which weighed 184 pounds, was circling Earth once every hour and 36 minutes. From its elliptical orbit hundreds of miles above Earth, Sputnik transmitted signals back to the ground strong enough to be picked up by amateur radio operators.
Many Americans feared the Soviet’s new technology, which seemed to be strides ahead of U.S. efforts. Sputnik was 52 times the size of the first planned U.S. satellite, which was not even scheduled to be launched until the next year.