On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union (USSR) launched Sputnik I from a rocket test site in the desert near Tyuratam in the Kazakh Republic. Sputnik I was a 22-inch aluminum sphere (a bit smaller than a basketball) with four whip antennae and weighed about 183 pounds. The first artificial satellite into space, it followed an elliptical orbit around the earth once every 96 minutes.

In an on-going race to reach space, the USSR beat the USA by only a few months and, on January 31, 1958, the USA successfully launched Explorer I. The success of Sputnik prompted the USA to increase funding for space programs and directly led to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as NASA.