Monday, October 01, 2007

The Beep Heard Round the World

Beep Beep.

50 years ago this week, the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite. Weighing 183 pounds and about the size of a basketball, the polished sphere was the first object placed into orbit by humans. It travelled at about 170,000 miles an hour - about 98 minutes an orbit. It transmitted that beep for 22 days (until the batteries wore out) and returned to earth 3 months after launch.

Some interesting facts:

-It was launched atop a rocket designed to carry nuclear warheads, which allowed a much greater payload than the US's measley Vanguard project, which had a 3.5 pound payload.
-The US planned on launching Vanguard to celebrate the International Geophysical Year (July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958).
-Sputnik means "Simplest Satellite" or "Co-traveler."
-The original launch date was Oct. 6 1957 but was moved to the 4th as Soviet scientists feared that the US was going to launch Vanguard on Oct 5th.
-There is some dispute about the sound of the beep. The speed of the beep was measured and certain conclusions could be made, particularly about the pressure inside the spacecraft. NASA has a recording available on its website : NASA Beep but as you can hear, it differs from the recording at the beginning of this entry. Specifically, the beeping is not of a uniform speed (it is pulse modulated). Don Mitchell has a good explanation of why he thinks that the NASA recording is incorrect.

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