The Space Age began with the development of several technologies that converged with the October 4, 1957 launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union. This was the world's first artificial satellite, orbiting the Earth in 98.1 minutes and weighing 83 kg (183 lb). The launch of Sputnik 1 ushered a new era of political, scientific and technological achievements that became known as the Space Age.
The Space Age was characterized by rapid development of new technology in a close race mostly between the United States and the Soviet Union. Rapid advances were made in rocketry, materials science, computers and other areas. Much of the technology originally developed for space applications has been spun off and found additional uses.
The Space Age reached its peak with the Apollo program, that captured the imagination of much of the world's population. The landing of Apollo 11 was watched by over 500 million people around the world and is widely recognized as one of the defining moments of the 20th century. Since then, public attention has largely moved to other areas.
In the United States, the Challenger disaster marked a significant decline in manned shuttle launches. Following the disaster, NASA grounded all shuttles for safety concerns until 1988. During the 1990s funding for space related programs fell sharply as the remaining structures of the Soviet Union disintegrated and NASA no longer had any direct competition.
Since then participation in space launches has increasingly widened to more governments and commercial interests. Since the 1990s, space exploration and space-related technologies gained a perception by many people of being commonplace.