What goes up, must come down

It was on 4 January, in 1958, that Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial Earth satellite, fell from orbit after having completed 1,440 orbits of the Earth.

On the first orbit the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) transmitted: “As result of great, intense work of scientific institutes and design bureaus the first artificial Earth satellite has been built”. People were encouraged to listen to Sputnik’s signals on the radio and to look out for Sputnik in the night sky. While Sputnik itself had been highly polished, its small size made it barely visible to the naked eye. What most watchers actually saw was the much more visible 26 meter core stage of the R-7.The first recording of Sputnik 1’s signal was made by RCA engineers near Riverhead, Long Island. They then drove the tape recording into Manhattan for broadcast to the public over NBC radio. However, as Sputnik rose higher over the East Coast, its signal was picked up by ham station W2AEE, the ham radio station of Columbia University. Students working in the university’s FM station, WKCR, made a tape of this, and were the first to rebroadcast the Sputnik 1 signal to the American public.

Homer Hickam’s memoir ‘Rocket Boys’ and the 1999 movie ‘October Sky’ tell the story of how a coal miner’s son, inspired by Sputnik, started building rockets in the mining town where he lived.

A model of Sputnik 1 was given to the United Nations and now decorates the Entry Hall of its Headquarters in New York City.