Fifty years ago today, a beeping metal ball called Sputnik was launched into the blue yonder ? and the course of human history was forever changed. The Russian name "Спутник" means literally "co-traveler" or "traveling companion". The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a basketball, weighed only 83.6 kg, and took about 96 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race.