Wednesday marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most important days in space history. It was on Oct. 4, 1957, that the Soviet Union successfully launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit and officially started the Space Race. People all over Earth were in awe of the satellite that zoomed overhead. It brought them into a different age.

Amazing moments in space history followed the launch of that humble satellite. Here are some photos from that time, early in the Space Race.

Into the unknown

sputnik The Soviet Union was the first to put a satellite into orbit when it launched Sputnik on Oct. 4, 1957. Photo: NASA/MSFC

The Space Race kicked off on Oct. 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit. It was Earth’s first artificial satellite. NASA described it as being “about the size of a beach ball” and it took a little more than an hour and a half to complete an orbit. At the time of the launch, the United States was also making preparations to launch a satellite, but the Soviets beat the Americans to the punch.

Finally exploring

explorer1 The U.S. launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, on Jan. 31, 1958. Photo: NASA

explorer1-launch Explorer 1 was the first U.S. satellite, launching the Americans into the space race. Photo: NASA/JPL

The United States launched its own first satellite into orbit on Jan. 31, 1958, four months after the Soviet Union sent Sputnik into orbit. Explorer 1 went up on a Jupiter C rocket. In addition to being the first American satellite, it was also the first to carry scientific instruments and it orbited the Earth once every 114 minutes.

Monkeying around

ham-chimp A chimp named Ham tries out the spacesuit that he would wear while testing the Mercury capsule that would eventually carry humans into space. Photo: NASA/MSFC

The 3-year-old American chimp Ham wears the spacesuit that he would take into space in January 1961, as part of the Mercury project. Primates like chimpanzees were used to test NASA equipment before sending humans aboard.

First spaceman

Yuri_Gagarin Yuri Gagarin was the first human to venture into space after the Soviet Union launched him into orbit on Vostok 1. Photo: alldayru.com/ESA

The Soviet Union was the first to launch a satellite into orbit and then, just a few years later, followed that up by sending the first human into space. Yuri Gagarin blasted into orbit on April 12, 1961, aboard Vostok 1 and stayed in flight for almost two hours.

“Ideological differences were momentarily forgotten as this man was hailed a hero around the globe,” according to the European Space Agency.

Gagarin died in a plane crash during a training flight in 1968 — he did not live to see men land on the moon.

Americans answer

Alan_Shepard_during_Mercury-Redstone_3 Alan Shepard became the first American in space during a flight on Freedom 7 in 1961. Photo: NASA

A month after Gagarin became the first person in space, the first American rocketed up. Alan Shepard became the first person from the United States to leave Earth. His flight took place on May 5, 1961, when he went up on a Mercury-Redstone 3 launch vehicle in the spacecraft Freedom 7. His was the first manned flight into space, as he used manual controls to guide the spacecraft. The flight lasted 15 minutes.

Around the world

john-glenn-globe John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, looks into a globe during training in 1961. Photo: NASA

john-glenn-friendship U.S. astronaut John Glenn poses with Friendship 7, the Mercury spacecraft that carried him in orbit around Earth. Photo: NASA/JSC

A little more than nine months after Shepard journeyed into space, U.S. astronaut John Glenn rocketed into orbit. His spacecraft was named Friendship 7 and went around Earth three times. His flight on Feb. 20, 1962, lasted almost five hours.

Women can do that too

Valentina_Tereshkova_bw Valentina Tereshkova went into space in 1963, becoming the first woman to leave the Earth. Photo: ESA

On June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova went where no woman had gone before. The Soviet Union launched the first woman into space, sending her up on the Vostok 6 rocket. She was part of a mission that sent two manned spacecraft into space at the same time and stayed up there for almost three days. During that time, she collected data, which including taking photos of the planet and of the horizon that would be used for research. Her total flight time during that mission was longer than all of the U.S. astronauts before her trip put together.

We choose to go to the moon

kennedy-rice President John F. Kennedy declares the United States’ intention to go to the moon during a speech at Rice University in 1962. Photo: NASA/JSC

One of the defining moments of the space race was when President John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech at Rice University in Texas in which he declared that the United States would send men to the moon. During that speech on Sept. 12, 1962, he uttered the line, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard … because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

He compared the conquest of space to that of Mount Everest: “Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, ‘Because it is there.’ Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”

Two American astronauts landed on the moon in July 1969.