Wisconsin's place in the Space Race - WFXS, MyFoxWausau - News and Weather for Wausau, WI

Wisconsin's place in the Space Race


In 1960 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik IV into Earth's orbit. 

Two years later, a 20-pound chunk of the satellite fell from the sky carving a three-inch deep crater in a Manitowoc, Wisconsin street.

Now a small brass circle embedded into the street marks the exact spot where the scalding-hot metal remnants of Sputnik were discovered.  A stone marker offset on the sidewalk identifies the date it was found for curious onlookers to see.   

Before the actual piece of metal was returned to the former Soviet Union, NASA commissioned a replica mold of the fallen satellite.  Today it sits inside the Rahr-West Art Museum, 610 North Eighth Street in Manitowoc, just feet from where the satellite slammed into the Earth.

Sputnik's successful launch was major news during the Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union.  But after the Soviets lost control of the satellite it quietly orbited the globe for months.  That is, until early in the morning on September 5th, 1962 when it came screaming back to Earth.

Besides the large piece that careened into North Eighth Street, a few smaller pieces landed on top of a neighboring Lutheran church.  The remainder of the once seven-ton satellite burned up as it entered Earth's atmosphere or landed in Lake Michigan, according to Rahr-West Art Museum's Elaine Schroeder. 

The museum displays the Sputnik replica along with newspaper stories that spread word of the historic satellite's landing in the city. 

Rahr-West is also the location of Sputnikfest a free, all-day festival celebrating Manitowoc's interesting place in space history.  Now in its third year, the museum considers it quite a success.    

"We started back in 2008 and were amazed at how many people showed up; there were over 5,000 the first year" Schroeder said.  "There's even a family from Minnesota that plans their vacation around it every year."    

The festival includes many activities geared towards kids including an aluminum foil costume making contest, space cake baking competition and Miss Space Debris pageant.  The day also features food and music.

"We refer to it as being wacky and tacky because the things we do are just fun" Schroeder said of the festival, "it's a very family-fun event."   

Sputnikfest 2011 runs Saturday, September 10th from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 pm.

Admission to the Rahr-West Art Museum and Sputnikfest are free and open to the public. 

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