A cosmonaut tosses a miniature Sputnik satellite into orbit during a spacewalk outside the Russian Mir Space Station in this time-lapse series of video images.
Credit: Russian Federal Space Agency
Fifty years ago today, the world changed forever. What began as a science experiment, quickly evolved into a political competition, and then drove humankind as far as the Moon in less than 12 years.
Of course today, 50 years on, it seems so simple. Several thousands of satellites later, when a private company can launch a satellite into space, to say nothing of the 463 people who have been there and back, a 23-inch, 184-pound beeping ball could almost be overlooked. Almost.
The Earth's first man-made moon remained in orbit for only 57 days but its influence can still be felt 50 years later. The U.S. civilian space agency, NASA, can credit its founding, three days shy of one year later, to the political reaction to Sputnik 1. Sputnik's now familiar "be-beep, be-beep, be-beep" was the original satellite radio. And the race heralded by those beeps ultimately led to the cooperation experienced today on the International Space Station.
Sputnik 1 was completely destroyed when it reentered the atmosphere on January 4, 1958. What remains today are the handful of backup units, vintage and modern replicas, and less tangible reminders of the now iconic quad-spiked sphere.
As a tribute to the five decades of space exploration that it set into motion, collectSPACE.com presents a countdown of the top ten Sputniks.
Visit collectSPACE.com to read the entries in order or click on the following links to jump ahead in the countdown.
Where else would you expect to find the world's most popular Sputnik than the world's most popular museum? The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., displays a full-size Sputnik hanging in its Milestones of Flight Gallery near other historic spacecraft.
It was cataloged as lot 241, titled simply as "Sputnik". Offered for auction on May 9, 2001 by Christie's in New York, the nearly two-foot diameter silver sphere with its four extending antennae stood out from the sale's other artifacts, not just for its history but its size. It fetched $160,000 by the auction's close.
Though the occasional authentic Sputnik has been sold, the six-figure sale price has kept most of us Sputnik-less. Fortunately, there are numerous smaller Sputniks ? both in physical size and price tag ? that means just about anyone can add a little Sputnik to their personal space.
On March 2, 1962, just 10 days after making history as the first American in orbit, John Glenn visited the United Nations in New York to attend a reception in his honor and to address delegates from the then-newly formed Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. According to the New York Times from that day, as he was leaving, Glenn paused to point out to his wife Annie and their family a model of Sputnik, hanging in the public lobby.
A man is seen running down a Washington, D.C. hallway. Reaching a conference room, he excitedly bursts open the door. "It's called Sputnik!" he exclaims in the cinematic version of Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff."
Though Sputnik 1 fell out of orbit long ago, its familiar silver sphere and four antennae can still be seen around the globe. By some counts, there are nearly as many Sputnik replicas on display in museums today as there have been years since the original satellite was launched.
One day shy of a month after Sputnik 1 made history as the world's first man-made satellite, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2. This time, in addition to radio transmitters like that of its predecessor, the satellite carried the first animal into orbit, a dog named Laika. This is not the story of Sputnik 2, but of a second Sputnik launched 40 years to the day Laika left Earth.
Lord British owns a real Sputnik. The ruler of Britannia, the fictional kingdom in the Ultima series of computer games, is the alter ego of Richard Garriott, the game's successful developer. Garriott, in real life, lives in Brittania Manor, his custom designed 'castle' in Austin, Texas, which, as one might expect, is adorned by the eclectic, from suits of armor to dinosaur fossils to the real Soviet satellite.
So where does one go to see how Sputnik worked? Why Russia, of course. But not just anywhere in Russia; to find the next best Sputnik to the real thing, you need to visit the museum at the S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia outside of Moscow.
And the number one Sputnik on collectSPACE.com?s Top Ten list is...
#1. The Sputnik That Started It All??????
The Simplest Satellite, PS-1, Sputnik-1, Prostreishiy Sputnik: whatever name you assign it, ?it? started the space age. Silver in color and about the size of a beach ball, Sputnik orbited the Earth for almost two months. But does anything survive of the world?s first satellite today?
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