How America’s First Satellite Launched the Space Race and NASA

Jan. 31 is the 60th anniversary in space with the launch of Explorer 1.

explorer 1
The Jupiter-C missile carrying Explorer 1, the United States' first space satellite, launches from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 31, 1958. (U.S. Army)

Jan. 31 marks the United States’ 60th anniversary in space with the launch of Explorer 1, according to The Los Angeles Times. The mission, which was fast-tracked, was highly successful. Explorer 1 carried the country’s first satellite into orbit and helped lead to the creation of NASA. Ten years ago, veteran JPL engineer John Casani said, “I really believe that Explorer 1 was the first landmark of space exploration. Although it followed Sputnik, Explorer 1 had science instruments on it.”

Back in 1957, the U.S. was trying to catch up to the Soviet Union. It had gotten off to a rough start though, and The U.S.S.R. was the first to put a satellite in orbit with Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2. But the pressure to compete led the U.S. to direct the Jet Propulsion Lab, which at the time was operated by the Army, to use their Jupiter-C rocket to carry a satellite into orbit. The Jupiter-C rockets were deemed more than capable of reaching orbit because they had been designed to strike distant targets across the globe. Explorer 1 was sent off to orbit only 87 days later. Earth’s newest “moon” orbited the planet 58,376 times. It finally fell toward Earth and burned up in the atmosphere on March 31, 1970.

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