Thursday, October 04, 2007

Happy 50th Birthday, Space Age!




I can't imagine there are any space-blogs or websites that aren't covering Sputnik 1 today, so therefore I must as well. Sputnik was launched 50 years ago today on October 4th, 1957, not counting time zones and date line differences. The 58cm/22.8inch aluminum sphere sporting 4 whip antennas weighed 83.6kg/183.9lb, transmitted a continuous stream of beeps on 20 and 40 MHz for 23 days, and was lofted by an R-7 rocket. The R-7 was actually designed as a heavy lift ICBM, but with the lighter payload, it was able to make orbit. Also of interest is that the R-7 (undoubtedly a somewhat modernized version) is still the launch vehicle for the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft we know and love today. Not a bad run for a launch vehicle.

One concern I have in the news coverage of the Sputnik launch is that many keep saying Sputnik was the size of a basketball, which isn't exactly true. A regulation basketball has a circumference of 36 inches, or about 11.5 inches in diameter. This would make Sputnik almost exactly twice the diameter of a basketball. Is this quibbling? Yeah maybe.

Back in 1997, astronauts on the MIR space station tossed a miniature Sputnik that was the size of a basketball out the airlock in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Sputnik launch. That story may be found here. At any rate, happy birthday space age!

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