January 31, 2018 was the 60th anniversary of the launch of America’s first satellite, Explorer 1. It was launched by the US Army Ballistic Missile Agency. The launches of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957 and Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957 by the Soviet Union had confirmed that the US was in second place in the space race. This #2 position was reinforced on December 4, 1957 when the first attempt to launch a US-built satellite failed. The Vanguard rocket failed to launch properly and exploded on the launch pad. Though damaged, the Vanguard TV3 satellite survived and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

The US finally got into the space race on March 17, 1958, with the successful launch of the Vanguard TV4 (later renamed Vanguard 1) by the US Naval Research Lab. Vanguard 1 was the first solar-powered satellite. It remains the oldest human-made satellite still in orbit, and is expected to remain there for about 240 years.

Sputnik, Explorer, and Vanguard had another, less-appreciated impact. They established the right of nations to fly satellites over the territory of other nations without permission, something which was/is not permissible for aircraft (eg, the U2 incident). This matter had been of great concern by the Eisenhower Administration, but is now only a minor footnote to history.