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On this date in space exploration… January 31, 1958…

The first successful launch of an American satellite into orbit – Explorer I.

Explorer 1 - 1958

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.

Officials with full-scale Explorer 1 model at Redstone Arsenal, including Maj. Gen. John Medaris (3rd from left), Walter Haeussermann, Werner von Braun and Ernst Stuhlinger

Sputnik I

Sputnik II

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.

Explorer 1 is mated to its booster at LC-26

Close-up of Explorer 1 atop Juno I booster

Explorer 1 and Juno I booster in gantry at LC-26

Launch of Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958.

(Images created by NASA, and are in the public domain.  vmls)

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