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!
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!”