Remembering the Launch of Sputnik I

When Sputnik was launched, the campus was abuzz with questions about how it worked, what kept it up, etc. and the three people most qualified to answer were John Porter, Bob Citron and myself. John Porter was an electrical engineering professor and the advisor to the student branch of the Pacific Rocket Society (PRS). He helped us design and build the rockets we fired at our test site in the Mojave Desert and, just as important, understand how they worked. Bob Citron’s grasp of space science belied his status as a student – he undoubtedly knew more about rocketry and astronautics than anyone else in the school. I wasn’t far behind them; Bob and I were both self-taught as Northrop didn’t offer courses in this new and emerging field. Bob, myself and other members of the PRS absorbed knowledge on the rockets that got a satellite into orbit and -- through our efforts to organize a MOONWATCH satellite tracking station -- what kept it up and brought it down.

The school didn’t have an auditorium on the property and all functions were held down the street at the local chapter of the Loyal Order of Moose, known as Moose Hall. Interested students, and there were many, as well as faculty assembled to hear us explain all about satellites. To illustrate a satellite in orbit, we rigged up a wire around a globe and slid a ping pong ball on the wire to represent the satellite. In the picture, John Porter is holding the globe, Bob Citron is standing at the map and the skinny kid on the right is me. The “satellite,” globe and orbit are not to scale, of course.