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Sputnik Facts

This article contains information and facts about Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that first orbited the earth on 4 October 1957.

Three Sputniks were launched into space

In all, three Sputniks were launched into space. Sputnik 1 was the most famous, and marked mankind’s first entry into space. Sputnik 2 was the first spacecraft to carry a passenger – Laika, the first dog in space – and Sputnik 3, which was designed to take scientific measurements.

Sputnik 1 Was in Space for Three Months

Although many people know that Sputnik 1 was launched on 4 October 1957, fewer people are aware that it orbited the earth 1,440 times in total, only beginning its orbital decay on 4 January 1958. Each Sputnik orbit took just 96 minutes.

A model of Sputnik 1
Sputnik 3 was supposed to launch before Sputnik 1

Sputnik 3 was designed to conduct scientific experiments in space. It’s ambitious design, however, meant that it’s construction was subject to delays and in late 1956 it was decided that the simpler Sputnik 1 should be launched first.

Sputnik 2 was designed and built in just four weeks

Sputnik 2 was designed and built in just 4 weeks to satisfy Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev’s demands for a spectacular launch to coincide with the 40th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Given this rush, it is perhaps unsurprising that Laika, Sputnik 2’s unlucky passenger, died within hours of launch.

Sputnik’s Dimensions

Sputnik 1 was a sphere of 98cm diameter, weighing 83.6kg. Sputnik 2 was a 4 meter cone, weighing 508.3kg. Sputnik 3 was slightly shorter (3.57 meters long), but much heavier, weighing in at 1,327kg.

A Replica Sputnik is on display at the United Nations

A model Sputnik is displayed in the lobby at the United Nations headquarters. If you can’t get to New York, though, you can also see replicas at the Smithsonian, and at the Science Museum in London.

Sergei Korolev was the Chief Designer of Sputnik

Sergei Korolev was the Soviet Union’s premier rocket engineer. After spending six years in the Gulag’s he was released to work on the Soviet Union’s rocket programme. Such was his importance that, until well after his death, he was only publicly referred to as “Chief Designer”.

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