On this day in 1958 Explorer 1 was launched by the USA in response to the USSR launching Sputnik 1 the previous October. The launch was operated by the Army Ballistic MissileAgency, the organisation for which Werhner von Braun worked after the War. It carried a cosmic ray detector, provided by Dr James Van Allen (yes, the same one the radiation belts are named after).
Explorer 1 only had a brief existence, transmitting until its batteries drained in late May of 1958, and burning up in 1970 when it re-entered the atmosphere.
January 31st 1961 saw two launches, MR-2 and Samos 2. Samos 2 was a reconnaissance satellite with a short lifespan and even shorter piece in the history books. The Samos surveillance satellites were a US Air Force programme, able to record video and transmit back while over US airspace.
MR-2, however, made a bigger splash. It carried Ham, a chimpanzee, on a quarter of an hour trip to approximately 130 miles up. He apparently appeared unfazed by his trip but as, presumably, nobody asked him about his experience, we only have the word of NASA scientists on this one.
Also today we have Luna 9, launched in 1966, the first spacecraft to successfully soft-land on the Moon, and Apollo 14, the eighth manned Apollo mission, which blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre under the command of Alan Shepard, (the first man to smuggle golf balls to the Moon) en route for their Fra Mauro landing site. I’ll have more to say about Apollo 14 on Feb 5, the day they landed.
C-type main-belt asteroid 232 Russia was discovered today in 1883 by Johann Palisa, and named after the country.