Believe it or not, the technology you carry around in your pocket, even if you are a preschooler with your own Kids Fire tablet, is way more than the technology available when the Earth sent its first visitors to space.
It was sixty years ago today (Oct. 4, 1957) that the Russians launched Sputnik I into orbit around our planet. The tiny satellite, roughly the size of a basketball but weighing about the same as a grown up, was the first thing humans had ever sent into space from the ground and the world was amazed.
The only technology Sputnik had was a couple of radio transmitters, a battery, and four long antenna that came out from the sides of the ball like streamers. Most of today’s cell phones have multiple transmitters and antenna that live inside the case. They also have more than one kind of antenna and circuit boards that weren’t available when Sputnik launched.
Sputnik orbited around the Earth for 21 days. Today, we have so many satellites out there and there are so many city lights, it’s hard to tell what is a star and what is a satellite. But back then, people who knew when to watch could see a little moving dot out there among the stars as Sputnik passed by.
Scientists tracked it during that time through the little beeps it sent back to the planet, but that’s all it could say. Not like your tablet that can recognize your voice and tell you the answer to your question.
After three weeks, Sputnik went quiet and eventually fell into the Earth’s atmosphere, the bubble of air that surrounds our planet. When it did that, it burned into ash because we didn’t know then how to build things that wouldn’t get too hot when they wanted to come back home.
Now, we know that objects moving through space go VERY FAST, like 162,000 miles an hour kind of fast! When things go that fast in space, it’s no big deal. But when they go that fast in our atmosphere, they make some of the gases in our air ignite and that makes other flammable gases catch fire.
That’s why movies show space shuttles on fire when they come back to Earth.
Thanks to Sputnik and other things that we’ve sent into space, we learned how to make a pocket of air in front of things like the Space Shuttle so they might get hot, but they won’t burn up.
So, even though your cell phone or tablet has way more technology in it than even the astronauts had when they went to the moon, they couldn’t help you get there except in your mind. They don’t have the rockets to get up there and they’d burn up on re-entry.