The Cold War took a different direction on October 5, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first successful satellite into space.  The satellite was named "Sputnik," which means "fellow traveler." Although it was only about the size of a basketball, it was shiny and could be seen from earth.  In fact, its orbit put it directly over some of the biggest cities in the United States.

However, the satellite had no scientific equipment aboard. All it did was beep out a radio signal (Click here to hear the radio signal). But it did what it was intended to do: scare Americans.

Sputnik raised Cold War tensions and many in the United States thought that the Soviet Union was ahead in technology---if they could put a satellite in space, it was believed, perhaps they could also launch a nuclear weapon as well.

Sputnik did two things: 1.) It led to an increase in science education in the United States  2.) It created a new phase of the Cold War: the Space Race.

In 1961, the Soviet Union put the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. Then, three weeks later, the United States put Alan Shepard into space. Throughout the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union competed with each other to be the "first" some way in space exploration. This culminated in 1969, when the United States sent people to walk on the moon.

Replica of Sputnik at the U.S. Air and Space Museum
(NASA: Public Domain)