Space Ships and Astronauts Introduction

About the launch of the United States space race with Russia after the launching of Sputnik.

Travelers in Space

The world gasped on the morning of October 4, 1957, when Sputnik 1 signaled the beginning of a new age. In the U.S., the gasp was anguished as the scramble began to orbit a U.S. satellite. Overnight, rocket experts, ignored since the days of Robert Goddard, became respectable, their services in high demand.

Before that autumn day, the U.S. space program had been a sporadic investigation, initially using Von Braun's German rockets, then its own developing defense arsenal to record high-altitude data. None of these rockets had entered orbit or escaped earth's gravity. Sputnik 2, carrying the little dog Laika, launched a month after Sputnik 1, increased the pressure in the U.S. Finally, Explorer 1 got off the ground at Cape Canaveral on January 31, 1958, and promptly discovered unsuspected layers of charged particles around the earth. These were named the Van Allen belts after the man who correctly interpreted the data.

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