The early space age is marked by Soviet accomplishments — the first satellites, the first living being launched into orbit, and the first human in space to name just a few. But there was one very important technological first secured by the United States in 1960. America was the first nation to safely recover a payload from orbit.
When we think about the early space age and history’s first satellites, we think about launches. Launching into orbit was the exciting technology behind Sputnik that promised a future where men could travel beyond Earth orbit. Those early satellites weren’t designed to be recovered. Sputnik’s orbit decayed and it fell to Earth in January of 1958. But it didn’t matter; it was the launch that was historically more important.