Today is the 50th anniversary of the day the USA replied to the world-changing Sputnik launch by the USSR almost four months earlier (see my post), as well as Sputnik 2 (carrying the dog Laika) a month after. In some sense, the space race began in earnest with this launch of the craft called Explorer.
A great thing about the Explorer 1 craft was that it even did some groundbreaking scientific discovery, revealing the first of the cloaks of charged particles around the earth known as the Van Allen Belts (they’re held in place by the earth’s magnetic fields). Both the Explorer and Sputnik series of craft were to make further such discoveries in the years to come (outer belts, etc). So this event can be seen as another landmark: the beginning of spacecraft-driven scientific discoveries about the world beyond and our own planet earth.
NPR’s Richard Harris has a short piece about the moments after the launch of the craft, and the nervousness of scientists such as Wernher von Braun as they waited for the results. Have a listen.
(Cross-posted to Correlations.)
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):