Beep, Beep, Beep...

Here Comes Sputnik!

(was created on August 30, 1997 at
but ISP changed domain)

NOTE: This page is under a new domain (mine!) and not all links and images are uploaded yet. I will one by one upload and update.

Last update: 5/27/08

Kate Becker with WGBH writes:

Editor's notes:

This website was created for the 40th commemoration of the beginning of the Space Age. Contributions and corrections are most welcome. I admit there are some sweeping overgeneralizations in this page and I'm not attempting to have an accurate word-for-word historical account of these events.

For those of you with "older" browsers from 20th century, you should see the "blinking" words, an html feature that made it in Netscape 1.0 because they ran out of beer (according to Laura Lemay).

October 4, 1957 (40 years ago):

The Russians launched the first artificial satellite from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan which demonstrated the technological superiority of Communism (actually more of a propaganda pain for the US). They equipped the Sputnik with transmitters to broadcast on frequencies at 20 and 40 MHz so everyone will know it's up there.

The United States was shocked. Senator Lyndon Johnson said the Russians have jumped way ahead of us in the conquest of space. "Soon, they will be dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks onto cars from freeway overpasses!*" [*from a movie that dramatized the emotional impact of that day]. Everyone in the United States were constantly reminded that the Russians were well on the way in conquering space and newspaper headlines, "REDS ORBIT ARTIFICIAL MOON" and "SOVIET SATELLITE CIRCLES GLOBE EVERY 90 MINUTES".

Reactions by Americans:

  • Many people did not know how to think of a satellite in orbit. It was too mysterious for them, "What is a 184 pound object in orbit?" "Are they looking down at us?"

  • Engineering colleges were flooded with new students the following quarter. It was as if everyone was "joining the army" to take on the Russians in the New Frontier (the govt also provided a lot of funds for engineering schools to fuel new interests in engineering).

  • Everyone on Johnston Island in the Pacific were issued sidearms to carry at all times. Johnston Island is so small it only has room for a runway and a hanger for airplanes.

  • Students at Case Institute immediately became "Rocket Scientists" and stayed up many late nights discussing various methods of space travel.

  • Jim Dawsons, science writer for the Star Tribune, wrote about how his third grade teacher was very nervous at the time. His school at Omaha, Neb., was just a few miles from the Air Force's Strategic Air Command headquarters. A fleet of F-100 fighters appeared in the sky coming right for the school. "MiGs!" the teacher shrieked. "MiGs!" She ran, hysterical, from the classroom, convinced they were about to be nuked by Russian fighter jets. The kids, mostly Air Force brats, ran to the windows to admire the F-100s, the coolest jet of its day.

  • Politicians and editorialists began attacking the U.S. educational system for having fallen behind Soviet schools in training people in the sciences and other fields.

  • Former President Harry Truman was moved to comment, charging the "persecution" of prominent U.S. scientists by Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the early 1950s had been a setback to the nation's development of satellites and rockets.

  • Ross Perot became inspired by the Sputnik to create an electronics dynasty.

  • After observing Sputnik, seven year old Franklin Chang-Dìaz of Costa Rica became infatuated with space travel and eventually became a NASA astronaut.

  • Tom A. posted on the newsgroup about an American entreprenuer had a "Sputnik" gumball for sale at the local candy store. It was blue and had protrusions sticking out of it to simulate Sputnik's antenna, and it was delicious.

  • CIA and other intelligence groups cut down a model of a Sputnik on exhibit at the Brussels World's Fair in early 1958 (a story heard by Paul Dickson, author of "The Shock of the Century")

  • Rich Tweedie K6VKT (now a SK) as a high school junior was one of first ham radio operators to hear Sputnik before it was mentioned on American radio and TV news, though many others thought it was a hoax (for a first person account, see below).

  • Students of St. Joe's High School radio club W8KTZ at performed tracking of Sputnik satellites and provided infomation to media (from Bob Leskovec K8DTS).
  • President Dwight Eisenhower was surprised but not as anxious as everyone else. He had photographs of the Russian launch facilities that were obtained from U2 flights over Soviet territory the United States was conducting since 1956. So immediately after the Sputnik launch President Eisenhower did not see it as an immediate military threat and he tried to lessen the political impact. But Eisenhower could not disclose intelligence gathered by the U2 flights, and he was not successful in damping the political impact. Thus the "Missile Gap" argument was born.

    The Sputnik launch occurred back in the days when the Pentium had vacuum tubes, and during this period the Americans and the Russians regarded each other as enemies (also known as the "Cold War"). They built massive armies, navies, and air forces and were prepared to engage in global war at a moments notice. American military manuals regarded the Russians as "The Threat," and Soviet government went as far as training many non-military citizens on use of small arms to prepare for an invasion from "The Imperialists."

    The United States tried to gain a foothold on the High Ground with the satellite Vanguard but it exploded on the launch pad and everyone laughed at the U.S. silly; some called it the "Kaputnik." And it wasn't as bad as just a launch failure, the vanguard satellite only the size of a grapefruit. The Sputnik 1 was 184 pounds and the Russians launched the previous month Sputnik 2 which was 1100 pounds and carried a live dog, Laika. There were lots of finger pointing, yelling, but also some had said that Sputnik didn't pose an immediate military threat. Although the same vehicle that can put a satellite into orbit can also vault a nuclear bomb across continents, nobody had solved the problem of shielding a satellite, or a warhead, during atmosphere re-entry. But it was that blasted "beep, beep, beep" every 90 minutes reminding the U.S., "Razzzzzz, we beat you!"

    To hear the sounds of Sputnik, Candice Rich of the pop music webpage, has a wav file at

    Vanguard Sidenote:

    However, a "war" on and the U.S. had to get SOMETHING in orbit and soon. Werner Von Braun and his rocket team finally got permission to launch the Explorer satellite and they successfully launch it on January 31, 1958. Explorer 1, a scientific satellite, used a rocket that had been developed to test guided missile components (also the same rocket later used as a IRBM placed in Turkey and aimed towards the Soviet Union). Explorer 1 carried an instrument package that provided evidence that the Earth is surrounded by intense bands of radiation, now called the Van Allen radiation belts.

    The U.S. could have put the first satellite in orbit in 1956 with a Jupiter rocket that reached 700 miles altitude and just 1000 mph short of orbital speed. However, those working with the launch vehicle were ordered to make sure the third stage was a dummy. President Eisenhower was nervous about the U2 flights over the Soviet Union and a U2 being shot down. That was one of the reasons he was reluctant to place a satellite in orbit because then it would have been another American object passing over the Soviet Union. Others in top government didn't want to embarrass anyone by putting the first satellite in orbit. Paul Dickson, author of "The Shock of the Century" heard a story of about the White House sent a team to Cape Canaveral in 1956 to make sure Medaris, von Braun and company did not send up an Army satellite. There were other conflicts as well. The three U.S. military services (Army, Navy, Air Force) each had their preference of how to deploy space vehicles thus wasted much time arguing among themselves [the Marines probably said it didn't matter which service leads the conquest of space, but it couldn't be done without an amphibious landing! Maybe this is why John Glenn was the most popular among the first astronauts].

    In a Associated Press article by Greg Myre, Russian scientist Arkady Ostashev said, "Those were great days. It was a lot of fun." Ostashev was part of a handpicked team and he was responsible for testing the rockets used for launching Sputnik. Sergei Korolev, father of the Soviet space program, told Ostashev and his colleagues after their triumph, "Congratulations, the road to the stars is now open." Although the Baikonur launch complex was so isolated that Ostashev and his colleagues, desperate for entertainment, would catch scorpions, put them in glass jars and watch them fight to the death.

    Another sidenote:

    Many things happened after October 1957. Here is a brief list of what the United States did:

  • Created NASA as the single agency to mobilize U.S. resources to beat the Reds to the stars.
  • Created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The purpose behind ARPA was to research new technologies that where too risky to the private industry. In 1969 they created the ARPAnet to research transfer protocols between computers across systems, the predecessor to the Internet.
  • Passed the National Defense Education Act.
  • Aerospace companies began a new engineer recruitment campaign: All you need is a pulse and a degree.
  • United States and Great Britain realign as allies.
  • Homer Hickam Jr. and his colleagues created the Big Creek Missile Agency in West Virginia in response to the Sputnik. For more information on a 1999 movie portrayal of this, see
  • Rich Tweedie K6VKT (SK) as a amateur radio operator and a high school junior living in San Leandro, CA was one of first hams to hear Sputnik. Judith Tweedie is working on her husband's autobiography, here is a note from his archive files:

    From this point, space development really got underway. Both the Americans and Russians embarked on developing spaceships to carry humans. The U.S. decided to recruit a select few for this bold new frontier, Test Pilots: Rugged men (no girls allowed!), dashing good looks, brains, and courage (willing to ride still-underdevelopment ICBM launch vehicles). "We'll beat 'em this time!" as many in the U.S. said when NASA presented their first seven astronauts. Then the next thing they knew Soviet Air Force Major Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to travel in space. And it wasn't just a suborbital flight as planned for first two flights of the Mercury astronauts (or those regularly practiced by X15 rocketplane pilots), but one full REAL orbit! (Yuri Gagarin webpage at

    In 1961, President Kennedy challenged the Russians in a race to the Moon. In 1969, the U.S. got there first and the Russians re-focused their efforts on permanent presence in space with a Space Station. However, things didn't go too well for both sides. The United States got themselves in a terrible jam in a country called Vietnam and had many social, economic, and political woes. They developed the Space Shuttle after the Apollo lunar transport system was decommissioned. Meanwhile, the Russians got embroiled in Afghanistan, which became "their Vietnam," and also suffered a deteriorating economic infrastructure.

    Forty years ago the reaction throughout the United States was universal: We're all gonna die. It's forty years later after that momentous date and what is the legacy of Sputnik? Shuttle-Mir!. The Russians and the Americans have teamed together to establish a permanent human presence in space. If you are going to have a Space Shuttle, then its gotta go someplace like a space station. And if you have a Space Station, then you need a shuttle to transport station crews. Visit the Shuttle-Mir Web Site (

    Here is a fascinating article about a Russian scientist who worked on the Sputnik:
    "Sputnik Marked Exciting Time for Russian Scientist"

    5-27-08 UPDATE: High Quality Sputnik Launch Vehicle Model

    The R7 Rocket: The Sputnik Carrier

    In the October 1, 1997 article of the Christian Science Monitor ("A Tale Of Soviets' Secret Aim" by Peter Ford) has a interesting article about Boris Chertok, the deputy director of the ICBM project. The purpose of the R-7 rocket was to drop nuclear bombs on American cities. That rocket was the fruit of a crash program launched in 1953 by the Soviet government as it strove desperately to catch up with the United States in the arms race.

    Moscow had built an atom bomb, but it had no way to deliver it anywhere in America. While US strategic bombers were stationed at NATO airbases all around Soviet borders, in the mid-1950s the Soviet Air Force had no plane capable of reaching US targets and returning.

    As far as his colleagues were concerned, space was just enroute from Moscow to Washington for a Soviet nuclear bomb. Mr. Sergei Korolev, however, had raised the prospect of a satellite launch in a secret memo to the Soviet government in 1954. He had been given the go-ahead to set up a team to build one.

    The satellite team, working on an ambitious 3,000-pound apparatus packed with scientific instruments, was behind schedule. Korolev had a brilliant idea. 'We'll make a simple satellite ourselves.' And in just two months our plant made the world's first artificial satellite."

    Chertok was stunned by the effect of the news. "We thought the satellite was just a simple thing: what mattered to us was to test the rocket again to gather statistics on how its systems were functioning. And suddenly the whole world was abuzz. It was only later that we understood what we had done."

    Chertok said that Baikonur, the Soviet Cape Canaveral, was "a terrible piece of barren steppe," he remembers, where summer temperatures could reach 122 degrees F., where the scientists and mechanics lived in railway cars, and where there was so little natural water they sometimes washed in bottled mineral water.

    "Unpublished Drawings" of the R7 rocket that put Sputnik into orbit is available at the Saturn Press website at Saturn Press specializes in rocketry publications, offering a complete line of products for modelers and space enthusiasts.

    For those not around in 1957...Sputnik Orbited Again 40 Years Later

    The Sputnik replica, built by French and Russian teenagers, died after two months in orbit. It was hand-launched from Mir in November 3, 1997 and the batteries were expected to last no more than two months. Its transmission frequency was 145.820 MHz which provided the opportunity for many around the world hear the "beep-beep-beep" transmissions from this replica of Sputnik, just like listeners did with the original Sputnik in the 1950s. However, the satellite achieved its mission objective. Built as if the teenagers followed the criteria specified by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin's "Better, Faster, Cheaper" spacecraft design philosophy, many people around the world were able to use their 2 meter ham receivers to pickup transmissions. The satellite is expected to remain in orbit for about a year (from November 1997).

    For more details on the Sputnik replica, see article "Sputnik Orbits Again" below, or visit the Angspoutnik (the teenagers that built Sputnik replica) website:

    Working Model Sputnik is on the Air
    [from ARRL Space Bulletin 34, dated 4th November, 1997]

    Reports from several places indicate the working model Sputnik PS2 satellite launched Monday, November 3, from the Mir space station is beeping away on 145.82 MHz. The one-third scale Sputnik model was built by students in Russia and France to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original Sputnik 1 satellite. Sputnik 1, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, was the first artificial Earth satellite. The original Sputnik 1 transmitted a beacon on approximately 20 MHz.

    The Sputnik model was launched by hand from Mir during a space walk by Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Anatoly Solovyev, who turned on the transmitter and checked out reception aboard Mir before launch with help from US astronaut David Wolf, KC5VPF. The beacon is audible in either FM or SSB mode. The beacon transmitter runs approximately 250 mW.

    Several stations have reported hearing Sputnik PS2 on the nominal frequency of 145.82 MHz, Doppler shift giving slighty higher frequency on acquisition of signal, and slightly lower at loss of signal. The signal is reportedly clearly audible even on a hand-held.

    On Reunion Island, a great cheer went up as hams, students and teachers gathered to listen to the Sputnik model as it passed overhead on its initial orbit and heard the beacon signal from space for the first time. Students from the FR5KJ radio club at Jules Reydellet College in St Denis, Reunion Island, and at the Polytechnic Laboratory of Nalchik Kabardine in Russia cooperated in building the mini-Sputnik. The Russian students built the satellite body, while the French students fabricated the transmitter inside. Two working models of the Sputnik were assembled and transported to Mir, but only one was launched. The 500 mm antennas are circularly polarized. Reception reports go to FR5KJ, the club station at College Reydellet.

    FR5KJ radio club will publish a diploma available for listeners. It will be numerated and authenticated by the stamp of the club. The list of diploma's owners will figure in a witness book. Diplomas will be sent after RS17 vanishing (no more signal transmission). The difference between a QSL card and a diploma : a QSL concern especially Amateur Radio. A Diploma has an idea larger of the commemoration. It addresses to people who want to keep a beautiful "memory" of the event. The format adopted 15x21cm and will be in 4 colors on special paper.

    For occasional listenners, they will have to indicate the call sign of the station and the operator will certify the accuracy of the contact.

    Diplomas will be sent after RS17 emits no more signal transmissions.

    Diploma request via email will be rejected.

    Send your reports (SASE envelope plus IRC) to:

    For more information, see

    Reception reports also may be sent to:

    Include an SASE and one IRC for a certificate. [This special QSL card is available to anyone who copies the beacon from the Sputnik satellite. Envelopes should be well sealed and not include cash. Send an SASE and an IRC (International Reply Coupon available from the post office) to the address above, and do not make any visible notes on the outside of the envelope with Amateur Radio callsigns.]

    The frequency of the beacon audio indicates the satellite's internal temperature. The scale runs from 1361 Hz at 50 degrees C to 541 Hz at minus 40 degrees C.

    [from a posting on the newsgroups]:

    Degs (C) Freq (Hz)
      50      1361
      30      1290
      25      1261
      10      1208
       0      1131
     -10      1040
     -20       891
     -30       724
     -40       541

    [from AMSAT/"This Week in Amateur Radio"]:
    Following launch, the scale model of Sputnik will remain close to the Russian space station. It's estimated that its batteries will hold up for up to two months. It's unclear what will happen to the satellite when it's no longer operational. For more information, see the Angspoutnik website at

    The Sputnik replica is also called the RS-17 and its trajectory is different than Mir's. The Kep elements (used in tracking programs) for the RS-17 can be found at

    Applicable websites:

    A related article can be found here:
    Mini-Sputnik to be Tossed From Mir
    The American Radio Relay League Letter Online, Volume 16, Number 33
    August 22, 1997

    News Articles

    Near the date of October 4, 1997, there were various newspaper articles written about Sputnik and some of these are available online. These articles were found at Newsworks located at A slightly different input to the Newsworks using will yield some different articles.

    For your convenience, I have listed some of these articles here. They are also good historical references:

    Mir's Crew Removes Old Solar Panel in Six-Hour Spacewalk
    MOSCOW (AP), November 3

    Launching of Sputnik 40 Years Ago 'Defining Moment' in History
    By Larry Wheeler of FLORIDA TODAY

    The Evil Empire's Beep-Beeps Traumatized Americans in 1957
    By Bill Foley, Columnist, T-U Online, Jacksonville FL

    For Better Or Worse . . . U.S., Russia Wed in Space on Mir
    Austin 360: By Charles W. Holmes, American-Statesman

    Stung by Mir, Russia to Launch Sputnik Replica
    August 4, 1997

    Russian Space Program Places High Hopes on New Sputnik
    The Washington Post, July 31, 1997; Page A20

    The following article was written ten years ago and here is where you can see the then on-going attitude that the Russians were enemies. Back then, the United States was doing everything it could to beat the Russians in space exploration. Nowdays, the United States is doing everything it can to work with the Russians in space exploration [amazing what can happen in ten years].

    Another place to find articles on Sputnik is the newsgroups. Use Dejanews at to search for applicable postings on Sputnik. I recommend you type in Sputnik satellite for the search string, otherwise you will get lots of postings not applicable to the spacecraft. Dejanews archives EVERYTHING on ALL newsgroups, and is very useful to find subject matter of your interest instead of having to read every stinking article on the newsgroups.

    Web Sites

    Editors Note: I've surfed around for some Sputnik related sites and these are some of what I've found [also includes sites brought to my attention by visitors]:

    The Shock of the Century by Washington journalist Paul Dickson: Go to for an outline on this book. There are photos, introduction, and several links.

    S.P. Korolev Rocket & Space Corporation Energia at

    SPUTNIK home page (at is described as "dedicated to 40th anniversary of the first artificial Earth satellite launch." There is also a link to the Russian Space Monitoring Information Support laboratory (SMIS) of Space Research Institute (IKI RAN).

    Sounds of early satellites including Sputnik are at

    Space Projects site by Vic Stathopoulos includes Sputnik at (was

    NASA has an extensive web page on Sputnik at

    USSR documents (available at includes:

  • "Announcement of the First Satellite," from Pravda, October 5, 1957
  • A Report On An Artificial Earth Satellite
  • A Report On the Feasibility of Development of an Artificial Earth Satellite
  • Synopsis of Report on Development of Conceptual Design of an Artificial Earth Satellite
  • Proposals of First Launches of Artificial Earth Satellites
  • Preliminary Considerations Of Prospective Work On The Development Of Outer Space
  • An assortment of excellent papers can be found online at the NASA site: The "Chief Designer" Sergei Pavlovitch Korolev (1906-1966), the Russian spacecraft designer who advocated the Sputnik satellite and also headed the Vostok and Voskhod projects, as well as the early Zond and Cosmos series. 58K JPEG image of Korolev at

    Image of Sputnik (47K JPEG) at

    IKI HEAD Home Page High Energy Astrophysics at IKI, Moscow High Energy Astrophysics department at IKI, Moscow, is carrying out research in various fields of X-ray astronomy: physical processes in the vicinity of compact sources of x-ray emission, x-ray observations... Their website is at

    Sputnik 1: The Beep Heard Round the World at

    The Smithsonian museum has a page that includes Sputnik at

    This site has a good description of the Sputnik Satellites and Launch Vehicles at

    This site has a brief description of Sputnik:

    There is also a song about Sputnik at "Sputnik" is by a techno-pop band from Sweden called "Blipp". Their home page is at, which also has sound samples. [thank you Tim]

    Here we have a New Yorker who is building a three wheeled vehicle described as, "Uniquely designed and specially engineered Didik Sputnik, with its 360 degree clear high impact cockpit resembles a cross between a Flash Gorden rocket ship and the first manmade satellite, Sputnik." See

    Feedback is desired (suggestions, comments, errors, gripes, whatever) Michael Wright, email address

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