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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sputnik's 50th Birthday Celebrated

APSoldiers attending the unveiling of a monument to Sputnik at the cosmonaut-training center in Star City on Thursday.
Goose-stepping guards and medal-bedecked space veterans laid flowers Thursday at the Kremlin wall tomb of Sergei Korolyov, the father of the Soviet space program, as the country celebrated the launch of the world's first artificial satellite half a century ago.

"We take a rightful pride in the fact that it was our nation that opened the way to the stars for humanity," President Vladimir Putin said in a statement.

Ceremonies were held at the cosmonaut-training center in Star City, outside Moscow. Engineers gathered at the Russian Academy of Sciences to recall the events leading up to the Oct. 4, 1957 launch of the spiky, 83-kilogram metal ball that beeped as it circled the globe.

The success of Soviet engineers stunned the world, and Sputnik's launch was followed just four years later by another historic achievement -- the voyage of Yury Gagarin, the first human in space.

Sputnik galvanized the U.S. government to pour money into space research and technology with the goal of landing a man on the moon -- an event that occurred nearly 12 years later.

"The Sputnik accomplishment by the Russian people was responsible for the creation of the American space program," said NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who hailed Russia's space achievements in a speech before space veterans and scientists.

After decades of rivalry, Russia and the United States have developed a close cooperation in space. Russian spacecraft now ferry crews and cargo to the international space station, and the two nations also cooperate on other missions.

On Wednesday, Griffin and Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov signed an agreement to put Russian scientific instruments on board U.S. probes that would be sent to the moon and Mars to search for potential water deposits.

"We have much learned from each other, and I think we can go father together than either of us can go separately," Griffin said Thursday.

In recent years the Kremlin has used some of the country's booming oil revenues to revive the nation's space program.

"The space program is back in the focus of government's attention," State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on a visit to a space factory.