Milwaukee Astronomical Society


Sputnik 4 and the MAS

In 1957, the former Soviet Union shocked the United States by the launch of the first artificial satellite called Sputnik.  This awakened the US and the so-called "space race" was born.  The Soviets would go on to launch more satellites and the 4th such mission was Korabl-Sputnik 1, but in the west it was known as Sputnik 4.  Launched on May 15, 1960, and intending it to land back to Earth safely after 4 days, the mission would encounter a problem leaving it in a derelict orbit until it finally fell in Wisconsin on September 5, 1962.

There is a great account of this on the website and the the MAS Observatory is mentioned because we do in fact have one of the three known replicas that were made of the original big piece that fell in Manitowoc. One of the replicas is in the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc and the other at the Manitowoc Area Visitor & Convention Bureau.

The MAS was the recipient of one of these replicas presumably because our observatory headed by Ed Halbach made satellite observations through the Project Moonwatch (aka Operation Moonwatch) program which provided needed orbit information which allowed the prediction of where the satellite fell.

The observations indicated that the major part of the satellite fell in Lake Michigan, but with the breakup during reentry some of the pieces landed in Wisconsin. Besides Manitowoc, fragments came down in Jackson and on a golf course in West Bend.

Ed Halbach verified that these were part of the fallen satellite and gave this documentation to Mr. Williams in 1962.  The pieces and this documentation were donated to the MAS by T. E. Williams son, Tom in 2014.


MAS Historical Notes

The object at the observatory is a casting (replica) of the Manitowoc fragment - @ 8" in diameter. It is presumed (by Thiokol Chemical Corp. of Utah) to be from Sputnik IV.

Magazine clipping:    " carbon steel heated to or near melting ...a melted steel aglomerate on a fragment covered with white powder, containing large amounts of magnesium oxide..."

Newspaper clippings:

9-5-62    Sputnik IV launched in May, 1960. Tracking revealed change to higher orbit several days after launch and predicted its fall so observers were watching. Halbach asked for sightings of fragments.

9-7-62    Photos from Manitowoc- Smithsonian Astrophysical scientists analysing 20 pound disk of metal. (incomplete article)

9-6-62    Kenneth Gevers (steel salesman) brought 20 lb. chunk to Milwaukee (the one we have), sent it on its way to Smithsonian Astrophysical with Highsmith on advise of Halbach and Highsmith. Hole in street had ground stones in bottom as if object had been spinning.

9-8-62    Whipple (S.A.) spokesman - tests not yet conclusive. Smithsonian reps critical of Highsmith's casual transporting and asked if he had been followed. 10 more found fragments sent to NASA.

9-10-62    Spring-like fragments found in West Bend. Halbach said pieces might be part of rocket nozzle rim. Confusion over who should take charge of found pieces and where to send them.

9-8-88    Photo Joseph Wisner who saw breakup kneeling next to plaque at 8th and Park in Manitowoc. Definitely identified, according to article, as Sputnik IV with 20x8 centimeter (20 lb.) piece. Part of fragment sent to USSR - another part kept by NASA. NASA made 2 replicas - one on display at Manitowoc Police Dept. the other inside Rahr-West Museum.

??Does MAS have a third replica??    It was always assumed that only two replicas were produced. We do not know the source of that claim, but it appears to be inaccurate. There are in fact 3 known replicas. Besides the one at the MAS, there is also one at the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc and the other at the Manitowoc Area Visitor & Convention Bureau.