The facts surrounding the launch of Explorer 1 are well-known: The Soviets had beaten the U.S. into space with not just one but two satellites, the latter of which carried a dog named Laika. Sputnik 1, launched on Oct. 4, 1957, weighed 184 lb. (84 kg); Sputnik 2, launched just 30 days later, weighed 1,121 lb.  On Dec. 6, 1957, the U.S. attempted its first satellite launch using the Vanguard Test Vehicle Three. The spacecraft weighed about 3 lb. The rocket flew for 2 sec., lost thrust, ...

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