October 4, 1957: Sputnik 1 Is Launched

Today in 1957, the USSR's Sputnik 1 was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Sputnik 1 was the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth, and is generally considered a major catalyst for the Space Race and Cold War. Sputnik 1 took just over 96 minutes to complete each orbit. After three weeks, Sputnik's transmitter batteries died, but it continued to orbit Earth on its own for 2 more months. By the time it achieved it's atmospheric re-entry on January 4, 1958, Sputnik 1 had completed 1440 complete orbits of Earth and traveled a total distance of roughly 70 million km (43 million miles).

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August 19, 1960: Soviet Union Test Launches Korabl-Sputnik 2

Today in 1960, the Soviet Union's Korabl-Sputnik 2 satellite was launched. It was the first spaceflight to send animals into orbit and return them safely. On board were two dogs, 40 mice, two rats, and a variety of flora. The satellite made 4 orbits around Earth before touching back down the next day. All animals returned safely. The two dogs, Belka and Strelka, were both taxidermied after their deaths and are on display at the Moscow Museum of Space and Aeronautics.

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