The very first satellite was called Sputnik1 and
was launched by Russia (then the Soviet Union) in
1957. It's no longer in orbit now, although many
more satellites have been launched since 1957 and
on a clear night, you can see them crawl across
To answer your question about the distance that
Sputnik was launched, we use the Earth as the
reference point for distance.
Satellites as well as the moon orbit the Earth,
but not in a circular path. The path that the
satellite takes is elliptical, so depending on
where it is in its orbit, it may be different
distances from the Earth.
There are two terms that are used in astronomy
to describe an elliptical orbit: apogee and
perigee. Apogee is the point when the satellite is
farthest from the earth and perigee is the point
when the satellite is closest to the Earth. The
best way to describe these terms is with a
picture, so I've attached a sketch. Click
The satellite will appear the largest when it's at
the perigee. The apogee of orbiting Sputnik was
about 939 kilometers an the perigee was 215
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