October 1, 2014

Sputnik’s Wisconsin impact

The spot where the remains of Sputnik landed on a Manitowoc street.

Wisconsin earned its place in the space race fifty years ago today. It was 4 A.M. on September 5th, 1962, when the remains of Sputnik IV crash landed in Manitowoc.

Greg Vadney is director of the Rahr-West Art Museum, where the piece of “space junk” crashed. He says the Soviets lost control of the spacecraft shortly after it launched in 1960. After orbiting the Earth for about two years, it entered the atmosphere and left its mark on 8th Street in Manitowoc.

The police officers who first came across the object thought it fell off a truck from a local foundry. Vadney describes the debris as similar to a large, flattened hubcap. Officers kicked it to the side of the road and only realized what they had found after they returned to the precinct and heard NASA and the Smithsonian were looking for a spaceship.

AUDIO: Greg Vadny (:12)

Milt Wetenkamp was hauling steel that morning for a freight company out of Chicago, when he saw the object come rocketing down to Earth. He says they were heading north from Milwaukee and could see a red line falling through the sky.

AUDIO: Milt Wetenkamp (:21)

Manitowoc is commemorating the unique day in history with its 5th annual “Sputnikfest” on Saturday at Rahr West. The event is going international this year with a film crew from the BBC coming to town to film portions of the festival.

Damon Ryan, WOMT