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Sputnik 3: The First Orbiting Geophysical Laboratory

15 May 2018, 13:20 UTC
Sputnik 3: The First Orbiting Geophysical Laboratory
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During the six months following the launch of the Soviet Union’s second satellite, Sputnik 2 (see “Sputnik 2: The First Animal in Orbit”), public attention was focused on American efforts to catch up by whatever means available. By the end of April 1958, the ABMA (Army Ballistic Missile Agency) had orbited two satellites in three attempts while America’s original “official” satellite program, Project Vanguard, had managed to get only one small test payload into orbit after four tries (see “Explorer 1: America’s First Satellite” and “Vanguard 1: The Little Satellite that Could”). While these satellites, with a total mass of only 30 kilograms, were dwarfed by the 592 kilograms of useful payload orbited by the Soviet Union, they still made some important discoveries including that of the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt. But while leaders in the US debated the Soviet’s capabilities, the danger they might pose and America’s response, everyone wondered when the next Soviet satellite would be orbited and what surprises it would bring.

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