Explorer Kicked Off Six Decades of 'Wow!'
The Space Race carried heavy symbolism during the Cold War, and the United States found itself behind at the start.
Russia jumped out to an early lead by launching Sputnik 1 and 2. America needed to make a statement, and NASA’s brightest engineers knew what to do.
The United States officially entered the final frontier by putting the Explorer 1 satellite into orbit on January 30, 1958.
Explorer 1 showed the United States was serious about the Space Race. The satellite was the first spacecraft to detect the Van Allen radiation belt and provided data until its batteries died about four months later. Explorer 1 remained in orbit until 1970, and more than 90 scientific spacecraft in the Explorer series have followed.
“The discovery of the Van Allen Belts by the Explorer satellites was considered to be one of the outstanding discoveries of the International Geophysical Year,” said Steven Garber, policy analyst in the NASA History Division.
The Van Allen radiation belt is a zone of energized particles that originate from solar wind that are captured by and held around Earth by its magnetic field. The Van Allen Belt is named for Dr. James Van Allen of the University of Iowa, who oversaw the development of instruments used on Explorer 1.
The iconic satellite no longer exists, though a replica of Explorer 1 is on display at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Take a look at some of the nation’s premier air and space museums to celebrate Explorer 1’s legacy.
-Air Force Space and Missile Museum. Cape Canaveral, Florida. The museum features displays telling stories of each of the launch pads dating back to 1949, when it was the Joint Long Range Proving Ground. Exhibits contain artifacts dating back to the 1950s, including parts to launch vehicles and control systems.
-Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum. Washington D.C. Home to the Wright Brothers original airplane and 22 exhibition galleries, this museum is the premier air and space destination in the United States. The Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” and the Apollo 11 lunar module are also on display here.
-U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Huntsville, Alabama. Opened in 1970, the museum hosts more than 1,500 permanent rocketry and space exploration artifacts. The museum also offers a pair of camp programs to stay on the grounds. U.S. Space Camp provides in-depth exposure to the space program via simulators and training exercises. The Aviation Challenge offers simulations of military fighter pilot training.
-Aerospace Museum of California. Sacramento, California. Located at McClellan Air Force Base, the museum contains displays of military and civilian aircraft, as well as replicas of space vehicles.
-Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. Denver, Colorado. Located on the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, the museum contains a wealth of fighter and civilian aircraft. It also hosts a mockup of the command module for the Space Station Freedom. There’s also MaxFlight: a 360° full-motion flight simulator and a Lucasfilm X-Wing Starfighter, a 3/4 scale replica built to promote the re-release of the first three Star Wars films in 1997.
-Kennedy Space Center. Merritt Island, Florida. Home to two IMAX theaters and historical artifacts, the museum includes the orbiter from the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Shuttle Launch Experience, a simulated ride into space.
-Air Zoo. Portage, Michigan. In addition to the SR-Z1B Blackbird, the museum offers a 180-degree theater that projects a 4-D simulation of a B-17 bombing mission during World War II and a simulator of a rocket trip to Mars.
-Strategic Air and Space Museum. Omaha, Nebraska. Museum focused on aircraft and nuclear missiles. The museum showcases strategic aircraft like the B017G Flying Fortress and SR-Z1A Blackbird, as well as rockets like Convair SM-65D Atlas, the Douglas PGM-17 Thor and McDonnell GAM-72 Quail.
-New Mexico Museum of Space History. Alamogordo, New Mexico. Dedicated to artifacts and displays related space travel and the Space Race, the museum includes the International Space Hall of Fame. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate. The museum puts on a large fireworks show every July 4.