Project Vanguard represented the American commitment to place a satellite in orbit as part of its contribution to the International Geophysical Year. The project was managed by the Naval Research Laboratory and funded by the National Science Foundation. This was the first payload, known as TV-3 before launch, in the first attempt to orbit on December 6, 1957. The satellite was recovered after the launch rocket malfunctioned almost immediately after ignition and crashed back onto the launchpad. It carried two miniature radio transmitters, one battery powered and one solar powered, to allow earth stations to track its flight. This would have allowed scientists to obtain data on the Earth's shape and variations in its gravitational field.
The satellite was recovered from the launch area damaged but intact and apparently still functioning. At some point it was opened, evidently crudely since the rivets had to be forced. Electrical connections to the transceiver remained connected. The satellite came into Dr. John P. Hagen's possession since Hagan was the Vanguard Project Manager. Discussions in 1971 between Hagan, then at the University of Pennsylvania, and the NASA historian Eugene Emme, resulted in an offer of the artifact to NASM on behalf of Hagan and NASA in April 1971 and it was acquired in May, and placed on temporary exhibit in the Arts and Industries Building next to Pioneer 10. When NASM opened in 1976, the hemispheres of TV-3 were wired together and the object was placed in "Uncle Sam's" hand in the entrance to the Apollo to the Moon Gallery, to symbolize America's reaction to Sputnik.