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Image of Explorer 1 spacecraft.
NASA/JPL

Explorer

Explorer 1, launched on Jan. 31, 1958, was the first U.S. satellite to orbit the Earth. Its successful flight made the United States the second nation in space, following the Soviets who had launched Sputnik 1 just four months earlier.

Explorer 1 carried several scientific instruments which measured space temperature and the dangers of micrometeorite impacts. Its major accomplishment was the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt, in a region around the Earth called the magnetosphere.

Between 1958 and 1981 there were 56 more Explorer spacecrafts to reach space, though the missions had little in common other than their small size and relatively low cost. They performed a variety of scientific missions, including thorough studies of Earth's atmosphere and ionosphere.


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Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

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Sputnik

The Soviet Sputnik program consisted of four satellites, three of which reached Earth orbit. Sputnik 1, launched on Oct.4, 1957, became the first artificial satellite to successfully orbit the Earth. It...more

The Discovery of the Radiation Belts

The belts of trapped radiation above the Earth's atmosphere, but within the magnetosphere, were first detected by James Van Allen in 1958. Therefore these belts are also known as Van Allen Belts. When...more

Radiation Belts

The Earth's radiation belts are just one part of the system called the magnetosphere. The radiation belts of the Earth are made up of electrons, protons and heavier atomic ions. These particles get trapped...more

The Earth's Magnetic Field

The Earth has a magnetic field with north and south poles. The Earth's magnetic field reaches 36,000 miles into space. The magnetic field of the Earth is surrounded in a region called the magnetosphere....more

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was one of the most important exploration tools of the past two decades, and will continue to serve as a great resource well into the new millennium. The HST found numerous...more

Apollo 11

Driven by a recent surge in space research, the Apollo program hoped to add to the accomplishments of the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor missions of the late 1960's. Apollo 11 was the name of the first mission...more

Apollo 12

Apollo 12 was launched on Nov. 14, 1969, surviving a lightning strike which temporarily shut down many systems, and arrived at the Moon three days later. Astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean descended...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA