Twinkle Twinkle Little Radio Beacon or a Star? – Sputnik IV falling

Our Mayor’s Office sent this around yesterday, a rememberence of a very Cold War event involving our town. There is interest in starting a “Sputnikfest” community celebration. Not certain if the idea will pan out, time will tell. The history is interesting. As printed in our Community City Worker’s Newsletter:

Early Sputnik Poster

SPUTNIK: The Shock of the Century

It was 500 miles up, traveling at 18,000 miles an hour, and it circled the globe every 96 minutes. If flew over the U.S. seven times a day. And the sound of its incessant beeping fascinated and disturbed the nation. What was it?


At first, nobody except its creators knew what it looked like or what it was doing. All that was clear was that the Soviet Union had ushered in a new era — and had taken a technological leap ahead of the U.S.

It was October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union changed history with the launch of Sputnik I — the world’s first artificial satellite about the size of a basketball, weighing only 183 pounds. The launch marked the start of the space age.

“Listen now,” said the NBC radio network announcer on the night of October 4, 1957, “for the sound that forevermore separates the old from the new.” Next came the chirping in the key of A-flat from outer space that the Associated Press called the “deep beep-beep.” Emanating from a simple transmitter aboard the Soviet Sputnik satellite, the chirp lasted three-tenths of a second, followed by a three-tenths of a second pause. This was repeated over and over again until it passed out of hearing range of the U.S.

Sputnik I was designed to determine the density of the upper atmosphere and return data about the Earth’s ionosphere. However, its two radio transmitters only returned signals to Earth for 21 days. Sputnik II was launched on November 3, 1957, and carried aboard it a dog named Laika. This time the satellite weighed 508.3 kilograms. Biological data was returned for approximately a week (the first data of its kind!). The data showed scientists how Laika was adapting to space. The satellite remained in orbit 162 days. As there was no safe reentry designed at the time, Laika was put to sleep.

The first attempt at launching Sputnik III failed on April 27, 1958. It was destroyed 88 seconds after launch. The second launch was successful on May 15, 1958. It orbited the earth transmitting data until its tape recorder failed on April 6, 1960.

Sputnik IV was launched into orbit two years later on May 15, 1960. Because of Sputnik IV, the City of Manitowoc is forever entwined in the history of the space race. Manitowoc is the only satellite landing spot in the state of Wisconsin as a piece of the falling Soviet Sputnik IV satellite landed right in the middle of North 8th Street in front of the Rahr-West Art Museum at 4:30am on Sept. 5, 1962. A replica (the actual fragment was returned to the Soviets) is displayed at the Rahr-West Art Museum.

Nearly 50 years have passed since Sputnik was launched and the sense of paranoia created by this first step into space has long since passed.


2 thoughts on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Radio Beacon or a Star? – Sputnik IV falling

  1. I remember the discomfiture this caused from
    the President on down. The result was a new
    emphasis on science, NASA, and science education
    in our schools. The examination of high school
    curicula caused Advanced Physics and Advanced Math courses to be added to schools in Pennsylvania. Thank you, Sputnik!

    With rapidly declining college enrollments in
    Math, Computer Science and Engineering, our
    country needs a similar kick in the pants now.

  2. Gene Miles KB8SWJ says:

    I remember that day in October, 1957, when someone wrote in a newspaper column about the launching of Спутник 1. They included the following poem:

    “Twinkle, twinkle, little Sputnik,,
    You iss Rawshin dirty tricknik.
    Up above da vorld so high,
    Making zigzags in da sky.
    How da heck can people sleep,
    When all night long goes ‘beep, beep, beep’?”

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