The first use of the word satellite to indicate a man-made object was 1936, over twenty years before the Russians actually accomplished it with the launch on October 4, 1957 of the satellite Sputnik. The word Sputnik-(in Russian Cпутник-1-anticipating more satellites, the Russians already called it Sputnik 1) is the combination of the Russian preposition c- (the s- sound, when added to the beginning of a Russian word means with) and the Old Church Slavonic root word poti meaning a road, way or journey, ultimately meaning a traveling companion. Sputnik 1 broadcast its simple radio signal for 22 days before falling silent in at the end of October, 1957. Roughly 2 feet in diameter and weighing almost 200 pounds, Sputnik launched Russia to the forefront of the space race. Even most Russians, though, were unaware of the significance of the event-the ‘headline’ event in Pravda (see image above) did not hit the front page of the newspaper until October 6!
Currently the United States Space Surveillance Network tracks 22,000 objects in space larger than 4 inches, of which only around 1,000 remain functional satellites. Just over a year ago today one of the larger satellites, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell out of orbit and into the Pacific Ocean. Larger than a school bus and weighing over 13 tons, the majority of the satellite burned up in the atmosphere.