A Piece of Sputnik in Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Oct 30, 2023 0 comments

In the early 1960s, before the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin to space, they began their Vostok programme with a series of unmanned test flights to investigate the possibilities and the means for a crewed mission. The Korabl-Sputnik 1, dubbed “Sputnik 4” in the West, was the first test flight of the Vostok programme. The 4.5 ton spacecraft carried a variety of scientific instruments, including a television camera, and a self-sustaining biological cabin with a dummy cosmonaut. The purpose of the mission was to study the operation of the life support system and the stresses of flight.

The Korabl-Sputnik 1 lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on May 15, 1960 with much fanfare. After four days of flight, the reentry cabin was separated from its service module and retrorockets were fired, but because of an incorrect attitude control the spacecraft did not reenter the atmosphere as planned. Instead, it drifted into space where it remained until September 5, 1960, when it dipped back into the earth’s atmosphere. As it screeched through the thin air of the upper atmosphere, the spacecraft burned up almost entirely, except for a 20-pound chunk of metal that landed in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in the northern United States, right in the middle of a street outside of the Rahr-West Art Museum.

Photo credit: Amy Meredith/Flickr

The piece of Sputnik was first discovered by two policeman, Marvin Bauch and Ronald Rusboldt, who initially mistook it for a piece of cardboard. However, upon approaching it, they felt the object was too hot to touch. Believing it to be a discarded piece of slag from a local foundry that had fallen out of a truck, they casually kicked it aside.

It wasn't until Bauch and Rusboldt witnessed reports about Sputnik's breakup that they connected the metal piece to the event on 8th Street. Returning more than seven hours after its fall, they found it still lying in the gutter. Using a Geiger counter borrowed from the fire department and confirming the absence of radioactivity, they then sent the object to the Smithsonian.

Also read: Point Nemo: The Spacecraft Cemetery

Nine days after the crash, the Americans offered the piece of the spacecraft to the Soviets, but not before NASA had made two replicas. One was given to Wisconsin's democratic senator, the other to Wisconsin's republican representatives, on the one-year anniversary of the crash. However, both declined the replicas, resulting in both ending up back in Manitowoc. These replicas now reside at the Rahr-West Art Museum and Manitowoc's Safety Building.

On November 15, 1963, the International Association of Machinists embedded a brass ring in 8th Street to mark the exact spot where Sputnik had fallen. Additionally, a small pink granite slab on the sidewalk was installed, providing particulars of the crash.

The piece of Korabl-Sputnik 1.

Photo credit: Amy Meredith/Flickr

Photo credit: Jonathunder/Wikimedia Commons

# Sputnik Crashed Here, Roadside America


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