Institute for Telecommunication Sciences / October 1957

October 1957: Sputnik, Earth’s First Artificial Satellite Launched

On October 4, 1957 the USSR launched the Sputnik satellite into an elliptical Earth orbit as a part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The launch of the Sputnik (Russian for satellite) shocked American citizens, and marked the beginning of the US/USSR space race that President Kennedy announced four years later. The International Council of Scientific Unions had declared July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958, a time of high solar activity, the International Geophysical Year, and resolved that artificial satellites should be launched to assist in mapping the earth and the atmosphere. The US launched its contribution to the effort, the satellite Vanguard, on March 17, 1958. Despite the fear Sputnik instilled in some Americans, researchers and scientists at the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory (CRPL) were eager to use it to help them understand the atmosphere and how satellites could assist in long-range communications. Tracking the satellite from Boulder, Colorado, and Miles City, Montana (approximately 400 miles straight North of Boulder), CRPL researchers hoped to better understand the Doppler Effect and how the atmosphere affected radio transmissions from space. CRPL later assisted NASA in planning and building many satellites for telecommunication and geophysical research. ITS, as the descendant of CRPL, continues to work closely with NASA to improve telecommunications satellite performance.