Sputnik was launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev as the first spacecraft to circle the earth. It stunned the world by demonstrating supposed Soviet superiority in some forms of technology, especially the capacity to build extremely sophisticated technology and powerful rockets (which could also carry nuclear weapons). It remains a high point of Russian pride.
- Sputnik I, launched October 4, 1957, carried an artificial satellite into orbit. It caused some concern in the USA, that the Soviet Union were the first to launch a satellite into orbit. Sputnik I was about the size of a beach ball (58 cm or 22.8inches in diameter), had antennas sticking out of it, contained a beeping radio transmitter, and weighed only 183 pounds. This success started the Space Race between the USSR and the USA.
- Sputnik II carried a dog named Laika (Russian: Лайка) into space on November 3, 1957. Laika was originally a stray, and she died a while after the launch.
Although Sputnik was ultimately responsible for the Space Race and the Missile Gap, it should be noted that it being launched first was due to a conscious decision on the part of then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as he worried that America launching a spy satellite first, due to it technically contradicting some aspects of international law, would result in several Soviet-orchestrated international protests in response.