Sixty years later, the Sputnik narrated by its creators
A replica of the first artificial satellite Sputnik,
launched on October 4, 1957 by the USSR, displayed at the Museum
of Space Exploration, October 3, 2017 in Moscow
“Bip beep” … Captured by radios from all over the world,
this sound, issued 60 years ago by Sputnik, launched the space
conquest. For his Soviet creators, he put an end to a time
trial, the first of a long series against the backdrop of the
At 84 years old, the engineer Edouard Bolotov remembers to
have caressed the rocket carrying the machine of metal of 58
centimeters in diameter. A few hours later, at 2228 hours
Moscow on October 4, 1957, the first artificial satellite took
off and allowed the USSR to display its military power.
After this launch, Edouard Bolotov and his colleagues
returned to their homes to celebrate this “victory”. “We found
alcohol used at the time as fuel for cars,” he says.
Because this success, the first of the Soviet space
industry, was not won in advance. It owes much to the German
scientists brought to the USSR at the end of the Second World
War and to their V2 rockets, missiles launched mainly against
Sputnik, the first artificial satellite
Sergei Korolev, a survivor of the Soviet Gulag considered
the father of the Soviet space sector, “reworked the fragments
of the V2 rockets brought back from Germany”, told AFP Nikolai
One of the creators of the R7 rocket that will orbit the
first Sputnik in 1957, the latter was responsible for composing
an aluminum alloy to be welded specially for the new
Korolev dreams of going to the conquest of space, but in the
middle of the Cold War time press: one of the main German
engineers, Wernher von Braun, is already working in the enemy
camp, among the Americans.
“The Korolev office must thus create as quickly as possible
an intercontinental missile capable of transporting the H-bomb
to any point on the planet,” says Nicolai Chiganov.
After three years of work and three accidents, the fourth R7
– launched from a new launch center in Kazakhstan, the future
Baikonur cosmodrome – reaches its target on the Kamchatka
peninsula in the Russian Far East in August 1957. But the head
of the missile burns.
– Tiny dot –
Photograph of the Nasa taken in October 1957 of a
technician bringing finishes to the first artificial satellite
Building a new missile head would take six months, but the
Soviets are in a hurry: the United States intends to launch a
satellite on the occasion of the International Year of
Geophysics in 1958.
Korolev then proposes to build a simpler satellite: two
hemispheres, a radio transmitter, antennas and a power system.
In two months, the 63.8 kg machine is ready.
But Nikolai Chiganov learns only on radio the successful
launch on 4 October 1957 of the first artificial satellite of
the Earth, carried out by his colleagues in the utmost secrecy
from the Kazakh steppes.
On a Sunday in October he managed to catch a glimpse of a
tiny spot in the sky. It is the Sputnik-1, which circles the
Earth in nearly 96 minutes.
His colleague Edouard Bolotov had more chances. In charge of
controlling the trajectory of the R7 rocket, he watched his
departure from his post at the launch center.
The day before, with two other young engineers, Edouard, who
at the time was 24 years old, managed to penetrate the hangar
where the craft waits for the final preparations.
“Conscious of his mission, the first in the history of
Humanity, we caressed (the rocket) and even left our signatures
in pencil,” recalls the old man with a young smile.
On the evening of October 4, 1957, he
was ordered to come immediately to the center. The whole
operation is secret, but dozens of people, relatives of his
colleagues, are already heading towards the river Syr Daria, to
observe the launch.
At 2228, through the embrasure of his post, he sees the
rocket coming slowly out of his pit, almost stopping a few
moments, then take off in a roar.
“At an altitude of 40 km, the rocket, with its four lateral
engines, formed a kind of cross in the night sky, before
disappearing,” he recalls.
It was only at about 3 am that he learned from his superiors
that the first artificial satellite had been placed in orbit on