In the 1950’s space was an unknown factor. Fiction had started to generate stories about space and heroes such as Eagle comics Dan Dare but generally people thought that actually going there was something for the future.
In the modern age it is hard to imagine the shock, particularly in the USA when on October 4, 1957, the USSR launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 which entered orbit.
This began the space age and the space race between the two major powers. Without this spur to competition and national pride it is unlikely that man would have set foot on the Moon just over a decade later.
The word 'Sputnik' originally meant 'fellow traveler,' but has become synonymous with 'satellite' in modern Russian. The pressurized sphere made of aluminum alloy and weighing just 83 kg (184 lbs.) had five primary scientific objectives: Test the method of placing an artificial satellite into Earth orbit; provide information on the density of the atmosphere by calculating its lifetime in orbit; test radio and optical methods of orbital tracking; determine the effects of radio wave propagation though the atmosphere; and, check principles of pressurization used on the satellites.
It was launched into space by an R7 rocket and circled the earth once every 96.2 minutes it transmitted atmospheric information by radio, but its two transmitters only functioned for 21 days. After 57 days in orbit, it was destroyed while reentering the atmosphere.