On this day in 1957, to the complete shock of the western world, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. It was the first time humans managed to send an object into orbit and heralded the start of the space era.
Two fascinating side stories to the Sputnik launch. The first was that the rocket used to launch the satellite was much more powerful than contemporary American rockets of the time. And the main reason was that American nuclear bomb technology was far ahead of the Soviets
The US nuclear bombs were smaller. The R-7 was designed originally as a missile with a very large payload as the Russians did not know how heavy their bomb would be. So lagging in nuclear bomb design actually helped the Soviets send a satellite up before the Americans
The other is that 2 Johns Hopkins University scientists tracking Sputnik found they could determine its orbit by analysing the Doppler shift of its radio signals. They figured that if a satellite's position were known and predictable..
..then the Doppler shift of its signals could be used to locate a receiver on Earth and one could navigate using that satellite signal. And that was the origin of what became the GPS system we use in our cars today.
Sputnik gave us the space age, it also gave us Google Maps!
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