60 Years in Space – Hoorah!

Dear Readers:

On this day (October 4)  in 1957, the Era of Space Exploration began.  The Soviet Union launched the planet’s first artificial satellite known as “Simple Spunik-1” (ПС-1).

Etymological sidebar:  The Russian word “sputnik”, which immediately entered the international vocabulary at that time, is just a simple word meaning “fellow traveller” (not in the sinister political sense, just one who travels alongside one).  From the Common Slavic *pont (“path”, “way”), with the prefix s- (“with”, “alongside”), hence the historical evolution of the word *s-pont-nik –> sputnik.

Which is one and the same as the Indo-European root *pent- (“to go”, “tread”, etc.) with the various ablauts (pent, pont, punt), also giving Latin pont (“bridge”), thence the French ditty “Sur le pont d’Avignon“, etc.

A Glorious Team

The first sputnik, as its name implies, was a very simple affair:  a battery-operated sphere 58 centimeters in diameter, weighing 83.6 kilograms, and possessing 4 spiky antennas!

Tikhonravov was an actual rocket scientist.

The team that put this thing together was headed by Soviet aerospace engineer Mikhail Tikhonravov (1900-1974).  After Sputnik-1, this team went on to put an animal into space; and no, I’m not talking about Yury Gagarin!  That party animal came later.  Little joke, comrades, no offense.  Anyhow, Tikhonravov went on to win the Lenin Prize in 1957 and has a crater on Mars named after him.

The first sputnik remained in orbit around our planet until January 4, 1958, having accomplished 1,440 revolutions.  During its 92-day journey it issued simple “beep beep” sounds which were heard by Ham Radio enthusiasts around the world.

And thus, from such humble beginnings, began humanity’s quest to boldly go…. etc. etc.

Or, as the noble Roman Virgil encouraged us, back in the day: “Sic itur ad astra!”

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7 Responses to 60 Years in Space – Hoorah!

  1. J.T. says:

    Uh, the Russian translation in the Sputnik 1 picture is incorrect…it reads сЛутник instead of сПутник…


  2. Patient Observer says:

    Posted this link elsewhere – a great account of the development of our fellow traveler:


    And here is a good quote from a story on Tsiolkovsky, the self-taught Russia who started it all:


    “All my life I have dreamed that by my work, mankind would at least be advanced a little,” Tsiolkovsky wrote close to his death in 1935. When Sputnik was launched 22 years later, mankind advanced much more than a little.

    One of my earliest recollections were seeing Forbidden Planet and hearing about the Red Moon orbiting the earth and fears of Soviet nuclear bombs from heaven.


    • yalensis says:

      Thanks for the link, Science Geek! Great post.
      As an animal lover, it is a bit shocking to see how Laika was squeezed into that capsule and died of overheating.
      Still and all, she volunteered for the mission, so I reckon she knew what she was in for…


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