by | Feb 20, 2019

The Soviet Union launched a total of five satellites named Sputnik between 1957 and 1960. Four of the five Sputniks are very interesting. One is just meh.

Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1

Sputnik was launched into space on October 4, 1957 by an R-7 Rocket. Here’s a few facts about Sputnik 1:

  • It was the first artificial satellite to be launched into orbit
  • At only 23 inches in diameter, it was only about the size of a beach ball and weighed 184 pounds
  • It orbited the earth every 96 minutes
  • It transmitted beeps periodically on two different frequencies which could be heard by both scientists and the general public for the 22 days until it’s batteries ran out
  • Even though it was so small, it could be seen with binoculars due to its shiny surface
  • Sputnik 1 entered the earth’s atmosphere and burned up on January 4, 1958

The Sputnik launch was a watershed moment in history. As a technical achievement, Sputnik caught the world’s attention and the American public off-guard (the Sputnik launch was a surprise – the Soviets did not announce it prior to launch).  The American public feared that the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons to the U.S.

Immediately after the Sputnik 1 launch, the U.S. Defense Department responded to the political furor and outcry by the public by approving funding for a U.S. satellite project.  On January 31, 1958, the United States successfully launched Explorer I. This satellite carried a small scientific payload that eventually discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth, named after principal investigator James Van Allen. The Explorer program continued as a successful ongoing series of lightweight, scientifically useful spacecraft.

The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which was created as of October 1, 1958. 

In many respects, we have the launch of Sputnik to thank for the great success of the American space program.  If we would have launched first it would have probably just confirmed out technological superiority.  But, with the Soviets jumping ahead, Sputnik was a wake-up call that spurred our space program and related technological advancements forward. It was a mere 12 years between Sputnik’s launch and Apollo 11’s landing on the moon.

Sputnik 2

Sputnik 2

Sputnik 2 was launched only about a month after Sputnik 1 on November 3, 1957. It was quite a bit larger as it was a 13-foot tall cone-shaped satellite.

Most notably, Sputnik 2 carried the first living creature into space, a 13 pound female dog named Laika.


Her pedigree is unknown as Laika was a stray that was found wandering the streets of Moscow.  She was originally named Kudryavka, but was renamed “Laika”.

Laika died after a few hours in space due to stress and overheating – thought to be a malfunction in the heating control system.  Sputnik 2 was not retrievable so it was always planned that Laika would die.  The plan was to euthanize her with poisoned food seven days into the trip.  The true cause of death was kept secret until 2002.  After the world found out about how Laika actually died there was a fair amount of outrage.  Although Laika did not survive the trip, the experiment proved that a living passenger could survive being launched into orbit and endure weightlessness.  It paved the way for human spaceflight and provided scientists with some of the first data on how living organisms react to spaceflight environments.  For a period of time, Laika was the most famous dog in the world.  Laika has been mentioned in many aspects of popular culture, including being on stamps, mentioned in movies, featured onTV and in literature as well as popular music, including one of my all-time favorite songs by the Arcade Fire:

Sputnik 3

Sputnik 3

Sputnik 3 was launched May 15, 1958, and was very similar in appearance to Sputnik 2. It carried scientific instruments to measure aspects of the upper atmosphere. Boring. Moving on.

Sputnik 4


Launched on May 14, 1960, this Sputnik was designed to test life support systems and the feasibility of manned space flight. It contained a dummy.

Most interestingly, it re-entered the atmosphere on September 5, 1962, and didn’t completely burn up. Parts of it hit downtown Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Here’s a great article called Remember when a Soviet spacecraft landed in Wisconsin?

Sputnik 5

Replica of Sputnik 5

Sputnik 5 was launched on August 19, 1960, and contained two dogs! They were named Belka and Strelka. Here’s a picture of them in their space capsule:

Belka and Strelka in their space capsule. Adorable!

In addition to Belka and Strelka there were also two rats, forty mice, various plants and a human mannequin named “Ivan Ivanovich”.

Sputnik 6?

We recently refreshed our offices and one piece of new furniture we bought we have been calling Sputnik. It’s a little meeting room. Here it is:



  1. I grew up in Manitowoc (born in 1961), and the Sputnik thing was a big deal there! There’s a bronze placard in the street where it fell, and the piece itself is in the local Ruhr museum, which happens to be right near where it hit.

    More recently, the town started holding annual Sputnik-fests. Not much else to do there, so what the hey. (See: https://www.htrnews.com/story/money/2018/08/31/manitowoc-wisconsin-sputnikfest-perfect-blend-history-and-absurdity-rahr-west-art/1159949)

    • That is amazing! Thanks for the comment! Very interesting.

      • My pleasure, John. Thanks for all the great IFODs!

  2. Heya John…Sputnik 6 looks like the cone of silence!.

  3. I am reading a book, Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, which describes everything in this IFOD, including the personal history of the first Astronauts. It discusses the urgency and suspense behind the Apollo 8 mission. I actually did some work for McDonnel Douglas and NASA related to the Apollo 8 program so of course I’m finding the book interesting.


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