50 years ago today mankind entered the Space Age when Russia (the former Soviet Union) launched Sputnik, a tiny little ball of metal, into orbit.
Russia marks Sputnik anniversary
MOSCOW (AFP) — Russia on Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the tiny satellite whose crackly beeps started the Space Race between the Cold War superpowers.
"We Were First," trumpeted a headline in the popular Izvestia daily. "At 22:28 Moscow time on October 4, 1957, humanity entered a new space age. The Soviet Union sent the Earth's first artificial satellite into orbit."
Veterans of the Soviet space programme laid flowers near the Kremlin wall at the grave of Sergei Korolyov, the space pioneer who created Sputnik and whose identity was a state secret throughout his life.
A monument to the satellite, whose name means fellow traveller, was unveiled near Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory message to Russia's space scientists, saying: "The launch of the Earth's first satellite was a truly historic event, which started a space age in the world."
Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov also praised a "tremendous" achievement.
The launch of Sputnik 1 was a huge propaganda coup for the Soviet Union in its rivalry with the United States and is being interpreted in the same vein 50 years later amid heightened Russian assertiveness.
"On that day, October 4 1957, America was seized by panic," Russia's space agency Roskosmos recalled in a statement announcing a special film on the launch.
The event was at first played down in Soviet official media but quickly prompted awed headlines in Western newspapers and caught the United States badly off balance.
The hurried launch of a US satellite in December 1957 was a flop, or "flopnik," as the London Daily Herald observed in a headline, barely getting off the ground before it burst into flames.
By then Russia had already launched Sputnik 2, which carried a dog into orbit, to become the first space casualty.
Sputnik 1, a silvery orb with four frond-like antennae whose signals could be heard around the world, also helped inspire a generation of astronauts and scientists.
The satellite was the first of several early achievements for the Soviet Union's space programme, including sending the first human being, Yury Gagarin, into space in 1961 -- another stinging loss of face for the United States.
The United States later took the upper hand with the first manned mission to the Moon in 1969. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, famously dubbed his step "one giant leap for mankind."
On the eve of the Sputnik anniversary, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov took a group of school children around the Korolyov space centre near Moscow, named after Sputnik's creator.
Also on Wednesday, the Russian and US space agencies signed agreements in Moscow under which Russia will provide technology for US missions to scan the surface of the Moon and Mars.
Russia's space programme suffered severe funding cuts after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 but has been partly revived thanks to greater state financing and international partnerships.
Putin has exhorted Russia's scientists to up their game in space technology. Russia is planning to send a probe to a moon of Mars and is planning a manned Moon mission by 2025.
Earlier this year, Putin voiced pride that Russia had "paved the way for space exploration" but he acknowledged that economic hardships in the 1990s "had a negative impact on the development of our space sector."
Right on Sputnik! Hey I was able to go to the Space Center in Huntsville while on my recent trip. That was pretty sweet, it was a little hurried though because my little cousins were being bratty but it was still really cool. They had that first pod that they sent the monkey into space in there...crazy.
Friends wrote:Monica Geller: Hey, Ross. Ross Geller: Hey. Monica Geller: What are you supposed to be dressed up as? Ross Geller: Oh, well, you remember the russian satellite Sputnik? Well I am a potato or a spud and here are my antena. so? Monica Geller: So? Ross Geller: I'm Spudnik. Spudnik! Chandler: Wow, I don't have the worst costume anymore.