Today marks the 50th anniversary of the space age. On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union successfully launched an unmanned satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit. It orbited the Earth for 23 days. Sputnik 2 was launched November 3, 1957 and carried the first living passenger into space on a one-way trip--Laika the dog. The launch began the space race between the USSR and the United States. Sputnik spurred the US government to increase spending on scientific research and education. The US successfully launched Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958 and created NASA in October 1958.
Check out NASA's sites on the anniversary:
Space Race from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Read "Sputnik 1" and "Russia celebrates Sputnik's 50th anniversary" from the Russian News and Information Agency, "Sputnik Hailed on Its 50th Anniversary" from the Washington Post, and "The Scientific Legacy of Sputnik" from FOX News (this site includes archived Movietone newsreels showing the launch of Sputnik).
Want more information? Check out the library's guides on Space and Russia.