The Space Age began with the development of several technologies that culminated on October 4, 1957, with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union. This was the world’s first artificial satellite, orbiting the Earth in 98.1 minutes and weighting in at 83kg. The launch of Sputnik 1 ushered a new era of political, scientific and technological achievements that became known as the Space Age.
The Space Age was characterized by rapid development of new technology in a close race mainly between USA and the Soviet Union. Rapid advances were made in rocketry, materials science, computers and many other areas. Much of the technology originally developed for space applications has been spun off and found other uses.
The Space Age reached its peak with the Apollo program which captured the imagination of much of the world’s population. The landing of Apollo 11 is an event watched by over 500 million people around the world and is widely recognized as one of the defining moments of the 20th century. Since then and with the end of the space race due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, public attention has largely moved to other areas.
During the 1990s funding for space related programs fell sharply as the Soviet Union disintegrated and NASA no longer had any direct competition. Also, public perception of the dangers and cost of space exploration in the USA was greatly affected by the Challenger disaster in 1986.
Since then participation in space launches have increasingly widened to more governments and commercial interests. Since the 1990s, the current period has more often been referred to as the Information Age rather than the Space Age, since space exploration and space-related technologies are no longer felt to be commonplace by significant portions of the public.