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October 4, 1957. A small object had people around the globe looking excitedly - or anxiously - up at the sky. Satellites are now such a fact of life, it's hard to imagine the effect of the first one 64 years ago. In sending up Sputnik, the USSR had thrown down the gauntlet for the Cold War space race.

Sputnik - Round 1 in the Space Race


Mona Evans
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Round 2 also went to the Soviets. With a payload much heavier than Sputnik 1, they launched Sputnik 2. The launch was successful in that the craft went into orbit. However, the first cosmonaut, Laika the dog, didn't survive.


Someone must have left the door open, because the skies are full of dogs. You can see the dogs of Orion and the hunting dogs of the shepherd Bootes in pursuit of the Great Bear. There is also the Running Dog Nebula, and the memory of poor Laika, the first cosmonaut, who perished in space.

Who Let the Dogs out?


Mona Evans
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The Soviets sent more dogs into orbit, and they fared better than poor Laika, returning safely home. A few years later, in January 1961, the USA sent Ham the Astrochimp on a suborbital flight as part of Project Mercury. Ham went into space, returned to Earth and lived to the age of 25.

But in the competition between the superpowers, the Soviet Union then won another coveted gold medal. On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin saw what no human had ever seen before: the Earth from space. He made one orbit of Earth. The 50-year anniversary of the flight saw film-maker Christopher Riley's homage to this event. The movie First Orbit allows you to imagine that you are making the historic voyage. Film shot from the International Space Station creates the views and it's accompanied by Philip Sheppard's music.

First Orbit - film


Mona Evans
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