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Racing to the Moon

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During the early years of the Space Race, success was marked by headline-making "firsts": the first satellite, first robotic spacecraft to the Moon, first man in space, first woman in space, first spacewalk. To the dismay of the United States, each of these early feats was achieved by the Soviet Union. These events triggered a drive to catch up with--and surpass--the Soviets.


The Soviet Union stunned the world with the launch of Sputnik ("satellite") on October 4, 1957. A shiny basketball-size sphere containing radio transmitters, Sputnik announced the beginning of the Space Age.

Coming just weeks after the Soviets' successful test launch of the first intercontinental ballistic missile, Sputnik signaled the U.S.S.R.'s capability in rocketry and their potential to dominate space.

Pointer A Soviet-made full-size replica of Sputnik is displayed overhead in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in the center of the Museum.

Sputnik arming key
SI#: 97-16258-5
This metal arming key is the last remaining piece of the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. It prevented contact between the batteries and transmitters until Sputnik was prepared for launch. A pin mounted on the launch vehicle served the same purpose until the satellite separated from the launcher in orbit. Only then did Sputnik begin to transmit the distinctive "beep, beep, beep" heard round the world.

Manufacturer: Experimental Design Bureau, OKB-1

Lent by Arthur M. Dula

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