The Explorers program was the United States‘s first successful attempt to launch an artificial satellite. It began as a U.S. Army proposal (Project Orbiter) to place a scientific satellite into orbit during the International Geophysical Year; however, that proposal was rejected in favor of the U.S. Navy’s Project Vanguard. The Explorers program was later reestablished to catch up with the Soviet Union after that nation’s launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. (See: Sputnik crisis) Explorer 1 was launched January 31, 1958. Besides being the first U.S. satellite, it is known for discovering the Van Allen radiation belt.

source: Wikipedia