At 22:47:56 EST on Friday, 31 January 1958 (03:47 UTC on 1 February), a Juno I rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 26A and successfully placed the Explorer 1 satellite into orbit around the Earth. The launch made the United States the second country to place a satellite into orbit – four months after the Soviet Union orbited Sputnik 1. Sixty years laters, the state of the US launch industry is strong thanks in large part to the proliferation of new commercial entrants into a long-standing market.
Explorer 1 – America’s first successful satellite launch:
The launch of Explorer 1 was America’s second attempt to place a satellite into orbit. Nearly two months previous on 6 December 1957, a Vanguard rocket exploded at liftoff when making the nation’s first attempt. It’s failure, in full view of the world’s media, compounded the embarrassment of being beaten into orbit by two Sputnik satellites from the USSR as the Space Race began.
In 1955, the United States had committed itself to placing a satellite into orbit during the International Geophysical Year, which ran from 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958. The Naval Research Laboratory’s Vanguard rocket had been chosen to ...