Sixty years ago today, October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union sent into orbit the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. The beach ball sized satellite, weighing 183.9 pounds, took 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. Sputnik’s launch captured the world’s attention and caught the American public off-guard. They feared the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites would increase their ability to launch missiles from Europe to the United States.
The launch of Sputnik 1 propelled the world toward new political, military, and scientific developments, marking the beginning of the United States and U.S.S.R. space race. On January 31, 1958, the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer 1. And by July 1958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act creating NASA as of October 1, 1958.
The Universal News newsreel below, released 3 days after the launch of Sputnik, responds to the launch by explaining how a satellite is sent into space and what it does once there. Instead of focusing on the launch of Sputnik, which may have caused more panic, the newsreel focuses on the future launch of a U.S. satellite.