[FPSPACE] First Russian use of word спутник to Describe Satellite

jameseoberg at comcast.net jameseoberg at comcast.net
Wed Jul 6 07:49:16 EDT 2016

As the letters below indicate, I'm helping a KSC tour guide answer an 
interesting historical question -- the first Russian use of 'sputnik' to 
describe an artificial satellite. I'm presuming it was Tsiolkovskiy, does 
anyone know of any earlier references in Russian? 

----- Original Message -----

From: "Stephen C. Smith" <wordsmithfl at gmail.com> 
To: jameseoberg at comcast.net 
Sent: Wednesday, July 6, 2016 5:32:04 AM 
Subject: RE: Use of спутник to Describe Satellite 

Thank you, I appreciate it … Doing further research, I found that Johannes Kepler apparently coined the word “satellite” based on the Latin word satelles , meaning "one who escorts or follows after an important person." So my guess is Tsiolkovsky may have used спутник because it has a similar meaning in Russian. But it could pre-date him as well, if Kepler used that meaning in the 1600s. I suppose I’d have to track down any Russian astronomers who pre-dated Tsiolkovsky. 

The distinction, of course, is that Kepler and his successors were referring to a natural satellite. So I’m looking for the first use of the phrase to describe an artificial satellite. 


From: jameseoberg at comcast.net [mailto:jameseoberg at comcast.net] 
Sent: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 10:16 PM 
To: Stephen C. Smith 
Subject: Re: Use of спутник to Describe Satellite 

interesting question, with your permission i'll pass it around.... 

----- Original Message -----

From: "Stephen C. Smith" < wordsmithfl at gmail.com > 
To: jameseoberg at comcast.net 
Sent: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 7:28:21 PM 
Subject: Use of спутник to Describe Satellite 

Mr. Oberg, my name is Stephen Smith. I work as a lecturer and tour guide at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. 

I’m hoping you might be able to answer a question for me, given your mastery of Russian language and space history. 

I studied some Russian in college decades ago. I know the word спутник translates as “satellite,” but has other meanings, such as a travelling companion. I found through research that Sergei Korolev’s team proposed to launch a Простейший спутник , or “simplest satellite,” which became Sputnik 1 . 

My question is, do you know when and how in the Russian language спутник came to be used to describe an artificial satellite? 

I’ve found some references implying that Konstantin Tsiolkovsky may have suggested using the word for an artificial satellite, but I haven’t found an authoritative source to confirm that, which you would be. 

Thank you in advance, 


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