Sputnik. 1957.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, the first artificial space satellite to orbit the earth.  The word "Sputnik" translates from Russian as "travelling companion."  Measuring 22.8 inches in diameter and weighing 183.9 lbs., Sputnik traced an elliptical path around the earth in 98 minutes.

The event was a shock to the American public, and historians have marked this moment as the beginning of the space race between the USSR and the U.S.  This Soviet achievement served as the catalyst for the creation of the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the channeling of more government funds into the military’s own space satellite programs.  

Those Sputniks that were sent into space are presumed to have burned up upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.  This Sputnik, one of the original backup satellites produced by the Soviet Union, survived in pristine condition because it was never launched.

Link: NASA piece - Sputnik and The Dawn of the Space Age