On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into orbit.
Sputnik spent 93 days in space, tracked by ham radio operators and backyard astronomers, before burning up in our atmosphere Jan. 4, 1958.
On Dec. 6, the rocket was ignited, but two seconds after ignition, after rising only four feet, it fell back to the launchpad.
The fuel tanks ruptured and exploded. While the rocket was destroyed and the launchpad was severely damaged, the Vanguard satellite itself was thrown clear, landing a short distance away with its transmitter still beeping away.
The U.S. did eventually put a satellite into orbit. Explorer 1 was launched atop its Jupiter-C rocket Jan. 31, 1958.
It was the first satellite to detect the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding our planet.