Relive the Launch of Explorer 1, America's 1st Satellite (Videos)

explorer 1 launch
A Jupiter-C rocket launches Explorer 1, the United States' first successful satellite, on Jan. 31, 1958. (Image credit: NASA)

Most of us weren't around to witness the launch of the United States' first successful satellite, Explorer 1, on Jan. 31, 1958. But we can still get a sense of the drama and importance of the moment from the newsreels that documented it.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has compiled several of these contemporary accounts into a 60th-anniversary celebration video, which you can watch below. [Explorer 1: The First American Satellite in Pictures]

JPL was a major player in the Explorer 1 story: The satellite was designed and built at the facility, which at the time had no affiliation with NASA. That latter tidbit of information may surprise you, but it shouldn't: NASA didn't exist yet. The agency wasn't established until July 29, 1958, and it didn't begin operations until Oct. 1 of that year.

Explorer 1 was America's first substantive response to the historic space successes of the Soviet Union, which launched the first-ever satellite, Sputnik 1, on Oct. 4, 1957, and put the first animal in orbit (a dog named Laika) aboard Sputnik 2 a month later. (The U.S. tried to launch a small satellite called the Vanguard Test Vehicle 3 on Dec. 6, 1957. However, it was lost on the pad in a spectacular rocket explosion.)

Explorer 1 is therefore a big part of the NASA story, said agency chief historian Bill Barry.

"The legacy of Explorer 1 really permeates throughout the agency," Barry said in another video about the pioneering satellite. 

If you want to get a feel for the impact Explorer 1 had on the American public, check out these vintage newsreel films on YouTube. They each run between 20 and 30 minutes.

The Big Picture: Explorer 1

X Minus 80 Days

At The Frontier

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.