Today in History: Sputnik launches into orbit, igniting the 'space race'

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Fifty-eight years ago today on October 4, 1957, Sputnik was launched into orbit by the Soviet Union. It was in this moment, that the "space race" unofficially began.

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The spacecraft, named "Sputnik" after the Russian word for "satellite," was launched at 10:29 p.m. Moscow time. Approximately the size of a beachball, this metal sphere was the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth.

SPUTNIK 1 MODEL
This launch took the world by surprise, as the U.S. had assumed they would be the first to conquer space. But however jealous Americans were, they still tuned in to hear Sputnik on the radio.

Four external radio antennae on Sputnik broadcasted radio signals from space. Listen to the beeps heard 'round the world:



Following Sputnik, the U.S. were eager to follow up. The first U.S. satellite, Explorer, was launched on January 31, 1958.

From there, it was a back and forth match between the U.S. and USSR. Major wins for the Soviets included sending the first man into space, the first woman, the first dog...but, the U.S. made a monumental step forward with the first man on the moon.

While there's no definitive answer to which side won the "space race," that doesn't stop people from picking sides. Let us know who you think "won the space race."

See more photos of the wonderful world of space here:

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Month in Space: Sept. 2015
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Today in History: Sputnik launches into orbit, igniting the 'space race'

September 22, 2015

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, recently past the halfway mark of his one-year mission on the International Space Station, photographed the Nile River during a nighttime flyover. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, "Day 179. The #Nile at night is a beautiful sight for these sore eyes. Good night from @space_station! #YearInSpace." (Photo via NASA)

September 19, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Small comm break. It happens. This is real life space. Meanwhile, here's a view of Earth from our window. BRB!"

September 27, 2015

Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell): "#London. Beautiful in the daylight, even prettier at night."

September 28, 2015

These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. (Photo by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

September 28, 2015

In this composite image of seven different photographs the moon is seen as it enters and leaves a lunar eclipse in Glastonbury, England. Tonight's supermoon - so called because it is the closest full moon to the Earth this year - is particularly rare as it coincides with a lunar eclipse, a combination that has not happened since 1982 and won't happen again until 2033. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

September 24, 2015

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has unveiled in stunning detail a small section of the Veil Nebula - expanding remains of a massive star that exploded about 8,000 years ago. 

Called the Veil Nebula, the debris is one of the best-known supernova remnants, deriving its name from its delicate, draped filamentary structures. The entire nebula is 110 light-years across, covering six full moons on the sky as seen from Earth, and resides about 2,100 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.

This view is a mosaic of six Hubble pictures of a small area roughly two light-years across, covering only a tiny fraction of the nebula’s vast structure. (Photo via NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team)

September 28, 2015

Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars. The dark streaks here are up to few hundred meters in length. They are hypothesized to be formed by flow of briny liquid water on Mars. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (RED) image (ESP_031059_1685) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. (Photo by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

September 17, 2015

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured images and video from the International Space Station during an early morning flyover of the United States. Sharing with his social media followers, Kelly wrote, "Clear skies over much of the USA today. #GoodMorning from @Space_Station! #YearInSpace." (Photo via NASA)

September 24, 2015

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). Pluto’s surface sports a remarkable range of subtle colors, enhanced in this view to a rainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds. Many landforms have their own distinct colors, telling a complex geological and climatological story that scientists have only just begun to decode. The image resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers).  The viewer is encouraged to zoom in on the full resolution image on a larger screen to fully appreciate the complexity of Pluto’s surface features. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

September 28, 2015

Recurring slope lineae (RSL) are active flows on warm Martian slopes that might be caused by seeping water. One of the most active sites known on Mars is in the central peaks (uplifted mountains of deep bedrock) of Hale Crater.

This image shows RSL extending downhill from bedrock cliffs, mostly towards the northwest (upper left). This image was acquired in middle summer when RSL are most active in the southern mid latitudes.

The RSL in Hale have an unusually "reddish" color compared to most RSL, perhaps due to oxidized iron compounds, like rust. Since HiRISE color is shifted to infra-red wavelengths, they are actually especially bright the near-infrared just beyond the range of human vision.

(Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

September 11, 2015

The arrangement of the spiral arms in the galaxy Messier 63, seen here in an image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, recall the pattern at the center of a sunflower. So the nickname for this cosmic object — the Sunflower Galaxy — is no coincidence.

Discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1779, the galaxy later made it as the 63rd entry into fellow French astronomer Charles Messier’s famous catalogue, published in 1781. The two astronomers spotted the Sunflower Galaxy’s glow in the small, northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs). We now know this galaxy is about 27 million light-years away and belongs to the M51 Group — a group of galaxies, named after its brightest member, Messier 51, another spiral-shaped galaxy dubbed the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Galactic arms, sunflowers and whirlpools are only a few examples of nature’s apparent preference for spirals. For galaxies like Messier 63 the winding arms shine bright because of the presence of recently formed, blue–white giant stars and clusters, readily seen in this Hubble image. (Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA, Caption via European Space Agency)

September 16, 2015

Kjell Lindgren ‏(@astro_kjell): "Utah and western Colorado including @DinosaurNPS - gorgeous!"

September 17, 2015

Pluto’s Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes: Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. To the right, east of Sputnik, rougher terrain is cut by apparent glaciers. The backlighting highlights over a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 780 miles (1,250 kilometers) wide. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

September 7, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "This #aurora is impressive! #YearInSpace."

September 14, 2015

The night sides of Saturn and Tethys are dark places indeed.

We know that shadows are darker areas than sunlit areas, and in space, with no air to scatter the light, shadows can appear almost totally black.

Tethys (660 miles or 1,062 kilometers across) is just barely seen in the lower left quadrant of this image below the ring plane and has been brightened by a factor of three to increase its visibility.

The wavy outline of Saturn's polar hexagon is visible at top center.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 10 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 15, 2015 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 752 nanometers. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

September 2, 2015

Kjell Lindgren (‏@astro_kjell): "Large lightning strike on Earth lights up or solar panels."

 September 28, 2015

The perigee full moon, or supermoon appears red on the autumn sky from the vicinity of Salgotarjan, 109 kms northeast of Budapest, Hungary, early Monday. (Peter Komka/MTI via AP)

September 17, 2015

Majestic Mountains and Frozen Plains: Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

September 25, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "#Auckland #NewZealand, Sorry we don't see you much during your day but you look great down there. #YearInSpace"

September 24, 2015

Scott Kelly (‏@StationCDRKelly): "Day 181. Arabian night over the the Arabian Gulf. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

September 6, 2015

This composite image made from five frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of nine onboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly 5 miles per second, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, VA.  Onboard are; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren: Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, Sergey Volkov, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, Danish Astronaut Andreas Mogensen, and Kazakhstan Cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov. (Photo via NASA/Bill Ingalls)

September 9, 2015

This image, made using images taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, shows Occator crater on Ceres, home to a collection of intriguing bright spots. 

The bright spots are much brighter than the rest of Ceres' surface, and tend to appear overexposed in most images. This view is a composite of two images of Occator: one using a short exposure that captures the detail in the bright spots, and one where the background surface is captured at normal exposure. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

September 26, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Feel bad for the people of #NorthKorea when I see with my own eyes they live without electricity. #YearInSpace"

September 21, 2015

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of small island cays in the Bahamas and the prominent tidal channels cutting between them. For astronauts, this is one of the most recognizable points on the planet.

The string of cays — stretching 14.24 kilometers (8.9 miles) in this image — extends west from Great Exuma Island (just outside the image to the right). Exuma is known for being remote from the bigger islands of The Bahamas, and it is rich with privately owned cays and with real pirate history (including Captain Kidd).

(Photo via NASA, Caption via M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State University, Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC)

September 4, 2015

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows Messier 96, a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way. (Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA and the LEGUS Team, Acknowledgement: R. Gendler)

September 22, 2015

Prometheus (53 miles or 86 kilometers across) and Pandora (50 miles or 81 kilometers across) orbit along side Saturn's narrow F ring, which is shaped, in part, by their gravitational influences help to shape that ring. Their proximity to the rings also means that they often lie on the same line of sight as the rings, sometimes making them difficult to spot.

In this image, Prometheus is the left most moon in the ring plane, roughly in the center of the image. Pandora is towards the right. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

September 8, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Since we don't have much green up here, the green of this desert is even more appealing. #GoodMorning! #YearInSpace"

September 10, 2015

This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto’s equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named  Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. The images were taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers). (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

September 10, 2015

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) shared this photograph on social media, taken from the International Space Station. Kelly wrote, "#GoodMorning Texas! Great view of you, the #moon, and #Venus this morning. #YearInSpace"

On Sept. 15, Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko clock in for their 171st day aboard the International Space Station since arriving on March 27. The pair, set to come home March 3, 2016, are spending 342 days in space to help researchers better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long duration spaceflight. In their almost six months in orbit, Kelly and Kornienko have participated in a range of scientific experiments focusing on seven key areas of human research. The one-year crew mission is the latest step in the International Space Station’s role as a platform for preparing humanity for exploration into deeper space. (Photo via NASA)

September 10, 2015

Why does Saturn look like it's been painted with a dark brush in this infrared image, but Dione looks untouched? Perhaps an artist with very specific tastes in palettes?

The answer is methane. This image was taken in a wavelength that is absorbed by methane. Dark areas seen here on Saturn are regions with thicker clouds, where light has to travel through more methane on its way into and back out of the atmosphere. Since Dione (698 miles or 1,123 kilometers across) doesn't have an atmosphere rich in methane the way Saturn does, it does not experience similar absorption -- the sunlight simply bounces off its icy surface. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

September 2, 2015

This view combines information from two instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to map color-coded composition over the shape of the ground in a small portion of the Nili Fossae plains region of Mars' northern hemisphere.

This site is part of the largest known carbonate-rich deposit on Mars. In the color coding used for this map, green indicates a carbonate-rich composition, brown indicates olivine-rich sands, and purple indicates basaltic composition. (Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona)

September 28, 2015

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): "Day 185. An interesting band of clouds over Southwest Pacific tonight. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

September 24, 2015

In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. This view, roughly 330 miles (530 kilometers) across, combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, 2015, and resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers). (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

September 28, 2015

A so-called 'blood moon' can be seen behind one of the steeples of the Cologne Cathedral during a total lunar eclipse in Cologne, western Germany. Skygazers were treated to a rare astronomical event when a swollen 'supermoon' and lunar eclipse combined for the first time in decades, showing Earth's satellite bathed in blood-red light. (Photo via ROLF VENNENBERND/AFP/Getty Images)

September 18, 2015

It is known today that merging galaxies play a large role in the evolution of galaxies and the formation of elliptical galaxies in particular. However there are only a few merging systems close enough to be observed in depth. The pair of interacting galaxies seen here — known as NGC 3921 — is one of these systems.

NGC 3921 — found in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear) — is an interacting pair of disk galaxies in the late stages of its merger. Observations show that both of the galaxies involved were about the same mass and collided about 700 million years ago. You can see clearly in this image the disturbed morphology, tails and loops characteristic of a post-merger. (Photo via  ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt, Caption via European Space Agency)

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