33¢ U.S. Launches Satellites
Celebrate the Century – 1950s
Issue Date: May 26, 1999
City: Springfield, MA
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed, engraved
After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union struggled to stay one step ahead of each other in space exploration. Substantial advancements were made by both countries during this time, but Russia was first to launch an artificial satellite, much to America’s chagrin.
In October of 1957, the Soviets sent Sputnik I into orbit around the Earth. The Soviets sent up a second satellite, Sputnik II, the next month. This craft carried a dog named Laika, the first animal to be sent into space.
Explorer I became the first satellite launched by the U.S. on January 31, 1958. Vanguard I was the second, released March 17, 1958. These satellites were smaller than the Sputniks, because American launch vehicles were not as powerful as those used by the Soviet Union. In 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev commented, “You send up oranges while we send up tons.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) took control of the program in 1958. Over the next few years, each nation continued to send up unmanned spacecraft, including meteorological units and lunar probes. The first communications satellite in flight was America’s Project Score in December 1958. In February 1959, the first weather satellite, Vanguard II, transmitted pictures of clouds back to earth.