On this date in space exploration… January 31, 1958…
The first successful launch of an American satellite into orbit – Explorer I.
Explorer 1 [1958 Alpha 1] was the first Earth satellite of the United States. The mission followed the Soviet Union’s launch of the first two Earth satellites the previous year, Sputnik 1 and 2. January 31, 1958 marked the beginning of the Cold War Space Race between the two nations.
Explorer 1 was launched on January 31, 1958 at 22:48 Eastern Time, atop the first Juno booster from LC-26, at the Cape Canaveral Missile Annex, Florida. It was the first spacecraft to detect the Van Allen radiation belt. The satellite returned data until its batteries exhausted, four months later. Explorer I remained in orbit until 1970. It has been followed by more than 90 scientific spacecraft in the Explorer series.
(Images created by NASA, and are in the public domain. vmls)
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