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Fifty years since Sputnik

Everything changes, everything stays the same

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Fifty years ago today the space age was truly born, as Sputnik sent back its first signals from orbit. Half a century ago, the Soviets launched what would be our first artificial satellite, and set in motion a revolution of technology.

Without Sputnik, Earth orbit would be a much quieter place, and life on Earth would be unrecognisable. Satellite technology is now integral to our lives. It carries the TV news we watch when we wake up in the morning, provides data for weather forecasters, carries phone calls, and even gets us to work, thanks to GPS. Satellites also handle data for our banks, processing credit card transactions. We are utterly dependent on the orbiting bodies.

"The civilisation we live in today is as different from the one that we lived in the mid-1950s as the mid-1950s were from the American revolution," American University public policy professor Howard McCurdy told the Associated Press. "It's hard to imagine these things happening without space. I guess I could have a computer, but I wouldn't be able to get on the internet."

Sputnik also triggered the space race of the 1960s, culminating in the Moon landing. It seems appropriate, in a sort of poetic way, that as Sputnik's half century rolls around we're all heading to the Moon again. Either poetic, or hopelessly depressing that in 50 years, humanity hasn't managed to move on very much at all, for all the little gizmos we have. ®

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