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Vintage Space: Happy Anniversary, Sputnik!

The satellite's launch on Oct. 4, 1957 marked the start of the Space Age
Related: Photos, Space
AP Photo
It's the day many space historians credit as the official start of the Space Age: October 4, 1957. On that day, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I into space, making it the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth.

Above is the first official picture of the Soviet satellite issued in Moscow on Oct. 9, 1957. The image shows the four-antennaed satellite resting on a three-legged pedestal. The Soviets had worked in extreme secrecy up until this point, striving to create the first man-made object to achieve orbit.

So what exactly did Sputnik do while in orbit? Alas, not much, though that's not to discredit its relevance. The small, silver satellite measured a mere 23 inches in diameter and served to achieve orbit and send back a beeping signal while circling the globe for 21 days. Perhaps most important to Americans, it proved the Soviet's superiority in space.

Sputnik's success occurred at the height of the Cold War, and the launch caused near panic in the United States. Leaders predicted grave circumstances for America, should the nation lag behind the Soviets. America's response would be to send the first astronauts to the moon in 1969.

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