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Bluffton's 1957 fascination with Sputnik

• Maynard Geiger recorded its "beeps" • Residents watch it pass over the nightime sky

• H.W. Berky asks:"Is it worthwhile to sacrifice American leadership in the many social sciences to keep pace with Russia’s recent rapid advance in the physical sciences?"

November, 1957, Bluffton News - Is it worthwhile to sacrifice American leadership in the many social sciences to keep pace with Russia’s recent rapid advance in the physical sciences?

Remember Sputnik? Only if you were alive in October 1957.


Three stories in the Bluffton News that year reveal local fascination and questions about this first-ever successful artificial satellite.


Sputnik ignited the space race. It fed U.S. fears that our nation had fallen behind in developing new technology. It in turn, intensified the arms race and raised Cold War tensions.


Translated “Fellow Traveler,” Sputnik 1 was a very simple satellite. It was a metal sphere with four long antennas protruding from it. It contained a thermometer, a fan, a radio transmitter, batteries and little else.


Read the following stories from The Bluffton News concerning Sputnik and the Cold War.


Headline: Bluffton radio “Ham” traps voice of Russian Sputnik on tape recorder

Oct. 17, 1957, Bluffton News – What is believed to be the “voice” of Sputnik, the Russian earth satellite, has been trapped by a Bluffton radio “ham” operator and professional electronics technician on his tape reporter.

Sputnik 1

Lying in wait before his short-wave radio rig at his home on Cherry Street for five nights after the launching seems to have paid off for Maynard Geiger. He has three minutes of “beeps” recorded. They seem to be those from Sputnik.


Although he has read reams on information on the Russian satellite thus far, Mr. Geiger has not heard the radio voice of the “moon” described.


Mr. Geiger made every possible check to assure he was listening on 20.005 megacycles, the proper frequency. The voice came on at the proper time – 10:27 ½ p.m. Wednesday night, October 10. He heard the beeps for three minutes.


Mr. Geiger believes that the speeding satellite was picked up as it moved south from a point west of Georgian Bay.


At 10:29 it seemed to be most distinct (when the moon was over Detroit) and faded out a minute and a half later when it should been passing west of New Orleans.


The “voice” recorded by the Geiger tape recorder varies in intensity the three minutes it is heard. It appears with a throaty sound becomes more distinct and disappears with a throaty sound. It is a mechanized beep with a peculiar hollow sound.


Another Bluffton “ham,” Bryan Basinger, has been listening for the beep, but thus far without success. By means of a two-way house-to-house radio hook-up Geiger is to notify Basinger if he picks up the beeps again, or vice versa.


Mr. Geiger’s tape recording will be played for a group of Boy Scouts who will gather to hear a talk by Prof. H.W. Berky on the satellite.


Headline: Bluffton watchers view Sputnik 1

Nov. 28, 1957, Bluffton News – A number of Bluffton residents on the watch for Sputnik 1 Tuesday evening were rewarded by a clear view of the Russian-made satellite rising over the horizon in the northwest and traveling in a southeast direction almost directly overhead.


The radio and newspapers had announced that the Russian moon should be visible at about 6:24 p.m.


Observers said that it came on the horizon just about over Grove cemetery. Directly overhead it appeared quite bright and then faded as it descended in the southeast.


Sunlight reflected on the rapidly moving satellite made it show up brightly in the dark sky.


It required approximately two minutes to move across the sky.


Headline: Don’t put all science eggs in one basket, Berky opinion of competition with Russia November, 1957, Bluffton News - Is it worthwhile to sacrifice American leadership in the many social sciences to keep pace with Russia’s recent rapid advance in the physical sciences?


This was one of the questions posed by Prof. H.W. Berky in his talk Wednesday evening of last week on “The Implications of Sputnik” before the Bluffton Business Men’s Association.


After outlining the sensational coup of the Russians in launching the first man-made satellite, Prof. Berky explained how Russia has worked quietly in the past few years to forge ahead in the physical sciences.


Russia makes sure that those with an aptitude for science get all the advanced training they can absorb. A Russian student is paid by the government until he gets his Ph. D. Science teachers rank at the top in Russian prestige.


In the U.S. the average full professor receives a pay rate two and a half times that of the pay of the laborer. In Russian the differential is eight times.


Russia is turning out 30,000 doctors a year as compared with the United States’ 7,000.


Prof. Berky told the audience that it is time to re-think our system of education. While the Russians have been concentrating the past 10 years on physical sciences, we have been teaching religion, history and philosophy.


“If we must make a choice is it worthwhile to sacrifice our many other sciences to match Russia in her concentration?” he asked.


The Bluffton College professor feels it is better to stay ahead of the Russians in other cultural things instead of trying to beat them in their selected field.


“We must learn to pool our resources nation by nation” he said, “and we have not been using the scientific recourses in our own country to ­­­full intelligence.”


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