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The United States launches the Pioneer 5 spacecraft on March 11 into orbit around the Sun. The modest-sized (92 pound-mass [42-kg]) spherical American space probe reports conditions in interplanetary space between Earth and Venus over a distance of about 23 million miles (37 million km).

On May 24, the U.S. Air Force launches a MIDAS (Missile Defense Alarm System) satellite from Cape Canaveral. This event inaugurates an important American program of special military surveillance satellites intended to detect enemy missile launches by observing the characteristic infrared (heat) signature of a rocket's exhaust plume. Essentially unknown to the general public for decades because of the classified nature of their mission, the emerging family of missile surveillance satellites provides U.S. government authorities with a reliable early warning system concerning a surprise enemy (Soviet) ICBM attack. Surveillance satellites help support the national policy of strategic nuclear deterrence throughout the cold war and prevent an accidental nuclear conflict.

The U.S. Air Force successfully launches the Discoverer 13 spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base on August 10. This spacecraft is actually part of a highly classified Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reconnaissance satellite program called Corona. Started under special executive order from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the joint agency spy satellite program begins to provide important photographic images of denied areas of the world from outer space. On August 18, Discoverer 14 (also called Corona XIV) provides the U.S. intelligence community its first satellite-acquired images of the former Soviet Union. The era of satellite reconnaissance is born. Data collected by the spy satellites of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) contribute significantly to U.S. national security and help preserve global stability during many politically troubled times.

On August 12, NASA successfully launches the Echo 1 experimental spacecraft. This large (100 foot [30.5 m] in diameter) inflatable, metalized balloon becomes the world's first passive communications satellite. At the dawn of space-based telecommunications, engineers bounce radio signals off the large inflated satellite between the United States and the United Kingdom.

The former Soviet Union launches Sputnik 5 into orbit around Earth. This large spacecraft is actually a test vehicle for the new Vostok spacecraft that will soon carry cosmonauts into outer space. Sputnik 5 carries two dogs, Strelka and Belka. When the spacecraft's recovery capsule functions properly the next day, these two dogs become the first living creatures to return to Earth successfully from an orbital flight

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