October 4th is the 50th anniversary of one of the world's most important events - the launch and orbit of Sputnik. It's important because for the first time in billions of years, Earth had a new moon, but it's also important because of the effects of that launch.
That event started the "space race", which eventually led to the USA placing the Apollo astronauts on the moon, and a large boost in science and mathematics education in schools, which benefited the US economy in ways unmeasurable.
The space race also contributed to the collapse of communism, indirectly, and ushered a new age of optimism about what humans could do and our place in the universe.
You would think that there are things that can't be new after 50 years, but the scientist's name who proposed Sputnik's launch was just recently revealed. He stated for the first time that almost everyone was annoyed that he wanted to create and launch Sputnik, stating instead that they should continue to work on a warhead. He finally got approval and launched the 183 pound ball with antennae. The Soviet government ignored the launch, until a week later, when the press from the world made Pravda note that the launch was an enormous accomplishment and gave the Soviets the respect of the world.
The Soviets had so much problem with their missile systems, they thought it wouldn't work. One thing they did have, however, was a much more powerful rocket system than anything the Americans had, and that ended up being what was required to launch the satellite.
All around the world, Sputnik observers set up telescope parties to try and see the orbiting satellite. What was observed, mostly, was the second stage of the rocket, although no one knew it back then - they thought it was Sputnik itself.
The launch was announced in Maine and a young nine year old Stephen King in a movie theater heard the announcement, and was convinced that the Soviets would begin dropping bombs, and was terrified, leading him to think of one horror situation after another.
The Americans were horrified, since the military joke at the time was that they would never have to worry about a suitcase bomb from the Russians, until they learned how to build a suitcase. Emergency funds were immediately obtained for a space program, since it meant the USA was vulnerable to missile attack, but the US had one failure after another after another, sometimes explosive fiery failures - until we finally got a man into space, Alan Shepard. In the meantime, the CCCp had the first dog into space, the first man into orbit, and the first man into space, and the first woman into space.
If you watch satellite TV, check weather, use a telephone, or even watch science fiction, you can thank Sputnik.