adventures in museum-going

Sputnik (secondary object)

Sputnik 1. Image from NASA - Goddard.

Sputnik 1. Image from NASA – Goddard.

Primary Object Description

Sputnik 1 (replica)
Lent by the Russian Academy of Sciences
On display in the Milestones of Flight gallery at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

The Sputnik on display at the National Air and Space Museum is a replica of the satellite that began the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. It’s a polished aluminum sphere with four antennae trailing off the rear. The object at NASM is a full-size replica, with a diameter of 58 centimeters and an overall length of 258 centimeters. The replica, like the original satellite, weighs approximately 83 kilograms.

sputnik_blurred

Sputnik (in focus) hangs among other Milestones of Flight.

Sputnik hangs in the Milestones of Flight gallery, which is one of two galleries that visitors enter the Air & Space building through. It’s surrounded by other aircraft and equipment. Because Sputnik is relatively small and hangs from a very tall glass ceiling, it tends to get lost among the other objects, which include Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne and the Spirit of St. Louis.

Sputnik is visible from the ground floor, looking up, and from the second floor of the museum, looking slightly down. There are two panels for Sputnik, one on each floor. The second-floor panel is much easier to find and relate to the satellite; the first-floor panel is located near the edge of the gallery and is easy to miss!

History

Sputnik 1 launched on October 4, 1957, marking the first time that humanity launched anything into space. The satellite launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, from where Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, would fly in 1961. Sputnik carried instruments to measure the density of Earth’s atmosphere and radios that emitted a distinctive ‘beep-beep-beep.‘┬áSputnik also carried chemical batteries to power its instruments, which lasted about three weeks. The satellite continued to orbit Earth after its batteries died, about 92 days in total, after which Sputnik fell back to Earth.

The Big Idea

Stress and pressure over time create change. Sputnik’s flight was the catalyst for the Space Race between the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Sputnik launched during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was extremely secretive about its military capabilities. The launch triggered U.S. fears that the U.S.S.R. was stronger militarily.

The United States had announced the intent to launch its own satellite in 1955 (see Project Vanguard), but was unable to successfully launch until 1958, when Explorer 1 flew. Sputnik’s launch meant that at the time, the Soviets were ahead of the Americans in space.

Sputnik’s launch marks the start of the Space Race, which we have to thank for the pace with which the American space program progressed. The space program, in turn, has yielded a return on investment in terms of technology, knowledge, and inspiration. Technology developed for spaceflight that is in common use today includes GPS, micro-processors, advanced textiles and materials, and food preservation techniques.

In short, Sputnik exerted pressure on the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union that ultimately resulted in humanity reaching for the stars, and developing a whole host of useful tools and techniques that have benefited people on Earth for years.

References
Background of Space Exploration. (n.d.). Vanguard – A History. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4202/chapter1.html

Explorer 1 First U.S. Satellite – NASA JPL. (n.d.). Explorer 1 First U.S. Satellite – NASA JPL. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/explorer/

Milestones of Flight – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. (n.d.). Milestones of Flight – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/milestones-of-flight/online/index.cfm

Milestones of Flight – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. (n.d.). Milestones of Flight – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/milestones-of-flight/online/1957.cfm

Scaled Composites: SpaceShipOne. (n.d.). Scaled Composites: SpaceShipOne. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from http://www.scaled.com/projects/tierone/

Sputnik. (n.d.). Sputnik. Retrieved January 14, 2014, from http://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/

comments powered by Disqus