First Successful Satellite Explorer 1 Enters Orbit

NASA Explorer 1, 1958 with Van Allen's cosmic ray detector on board. Photo: NASA

Satellites have become an indispensable part of modern communication, powering the functions of radio stations, television broadcasts, mapping, and simulcast coverage of live events in most parts of the world.

The first American satellite, Explorer 1, was launched into space on 31st of January 1958, during the height of the space age when the USSR and USA were competing to advance the studies and explorations of astronomical pursuits.

Soviet Russia had already launched Sputnik 1 & 2 by the time of America’s foray into satellite technology, spurring American space agencies to act decisively.

Explorer 1 was delivered into space by a US Juno Army rocket, also known as Jupiter-C. The satellite was originally intended to be launched with the Vanguard rocket by the US Navy but the device had exploded in its trial run, leading to the media satirizing the event as “Kaputnik”.

A main component on Explorer 1, called the cosmic ray detector, was invented by James Van Allen in the University of Iowa, which spotted the first discovery in space: radiation belts surrounding the Earth.

Scientists establish this as a major discovery, inferring the belt to be a natural buffer of the Earth, keeping out cosmic rays and making the planet hospitable for life.

Newsreel of Explorer 1, 1958

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