September 11th is always a special and sad time for Americans as we remember the thousands of people slaughtered by terrorists eight years ago. During today’s moving tributes, it reminded Denise Anne and I of all the reasons we love America. One of those reasons resides in a small Wisconsin town called Manitowoc on the shores of Lake Michigan: Sputnikfest.
The second annual Sputnikfest began today and runs through Saturday night with all manner of out of this world entertainment. It’s hard to miss the place because of the giant Cedar Crest Cow covered in aluminum foil and wearing giant moon boots.
We found out about the place as Denise Anne’s parents were driving through the heartland last year and Mrs. Duffield told her daughter that they had arrived at a place that was going to have a festival the next day about Sputnik. Why on Earth, I thought, was there a festival about the famous Soviet satellite in a little Wisconsin town? And why, Denise Anne protested, had I not known about this earlier so she could have entered the Miss Space Debris contest?
Saying I ‘spaced out’ didn’t fly with my otherworldly babe so I had to do some research. Turns out that in 1962, a twenty pound chunk of Sputnik 4 came crashing through the atmosphere in a spectacular blaze of light in the night sky and slammed into the middle of 8th Street in Manitowoc.
The first Sputnik was launched on October 4, 1957 and soon became a threat to the United States as it demonstrated to the world the Soviet lead in space. The two-foot in diameter spherical satellite weighed about 183 pounds. While the craft itself wasn’t visible from Earth the casing of the rocket booster, orbiting behind it, was.
The shock of the Soviets beating us into space continued with nine more Sputnik missions including the one that partially ended up in the middle of Manitowoc. Sputnik 4 was launched on May 15, 1960 and was the first test-flight of the Vostok spacecraft that would be later used for the first human spaceflight.
For two years, three months, and some twenty-odd days Sputnik 4 circled the planet but when reentry was attempted, a glitch in the guidance system moved the satellite into a higher orbit. The craft re-entered the atmosphere on September 5, 1962, streaking through the autumn sky before part of it landed in Manitowoc, conveniently, at 8th and Park where the town museum is. The Rahr West Art Museum then displayed the Sputnik 4 chunk before it was given back to the Soviets in an act of Cold War friendship.
Having grown up in Cape Canaveral during the first halcyon days of the space program in the 1960s, I’ve always appreciated the significance of searing-hot space junk slamming into Earth. So Sputnikfest has a special place in my heart. And who couldn’t love a festival that has a Cosmic Cake contest and Space Race. Tomorrow morning participants will start with a partner and run through kiddie pools, get bombarded by an “asteroid shower” of water balloons, pick up space debris, drive little vehicles and ride in a shopping cart, according to the local paper. Sputnik Ale and space dogs will feed the masses as will egg rolls and schmelt-nik.
Reading about this today, I began to smell that hot acrid scent of burning metal. Crackling and buzzing heightened my alarm and I turned to see an alien, a really hot alien, standing before me. She was clad, sort of, in a spacesuit that looked like it was sprayed-on aluminum and had a large elaborate space weapon in one gloved hand. I took to her immediately.
“I will now go to Manitowoc to claim that which is mine,” D-bot intoned, fingering the gun.
I had a hard time breaking it to D-bot that being Miss Space Debris meant having to preside over the Project Sputnik Costume Contest, billed as “Sputnikfest’s version of Project Runway,” which she might find too earthy for her tastes.
“Not at all.” she buzzed. “Earth tastes good. Now start me up so we can blast off!”
Thanks Michael for cheering up my day with this spacey news article. It was really great to take a few minutes off from other worldly disasters to visualize this close call, and the cool festival and imaginative food that commemorates such a memorable event.
It was also neat to find out about Sputnik, and the role it played in later space exploration. It is just too bad that the citizens of Manitowoc gave the fallen piece of Sputnik back to the Russians. They should have kept it for some kind of Cold War ransom. Or,if we wanted to be friendly, we should have made sure to drop a piece of the moon on their toes.
Wisconsin is a beautiful state, and this festival would certainly be worth visiting. One of my former hometowns, Minneapolis, has a sensational yearly ice festival, but you can quickly freeze to death visiting that one.