By DON STINE
In 1957, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union officially began with the launching of the satellite Sputnik 1 and Ocean Township resident Stan Schodowski was the first person to view the controversial satellite in outer space.
On Oct. 12, 1957, Schodowski was the first American to optically sight (with aid of a telescope) Sputnik, its nose cone, and booster rocket—three objects.
“Six of us were on the roof of the Hexagon Building at Fort Monmouth in the early morning of Saturday, Oct. 12, 1957. We were the Fort Monmouth Moonwatch Team, there to scan the skies for a glimpse of the Soviet satellite whose launch eight days earlier had shocked the nation,” Schodowski said in a previous statement.
“I was the lucky one. At 6:22 a.m., I spotted two objects in the northern sky moving in parallel paths about 22 degrees above the horizon. Seconds later, a third object, not as bright, appeared. I remember being surprised to see three objects. Our training for the anticipated Vanguard tracking had prepared us to expect just one.
“I yelled the time, as we had been trained to do. The team leader relayed the data to SAO headquarters in Cambridge, MA., where it was entered into an early computer,” he said.
Mayor Christopher Siciliano and the Township Council presented Schodowski with a special proclamation at a recent meeting.
“Both Stan Schodowski and the Deal Test Site have earned their place in history,” the mayor said.
At 7:50 a.m. on Oct. 5, just hours after the launch, the Astro-Observation Center, an outpost of Fort Monmouth’s Signal Corps on the Deal Test Site, was the first U.S. government facility to pick up radio signals from the Soviet satellite (an instrument sighting).
Sputnik 1 was only 23 inches in diameter and weighed about 183 pounds. Each of its elliptical orbits around the Earth took about 96 minutes and much of the monitoring of the satellite was done by amateur radio operators.
The Deal Test Site (now Joe Palaia Park) was geared up for satellite tracking. It had a unique capability to pinpoint the source of radio signals on the very frequencies the Sputnick was broadcasting. It had engineers trained and ready to go into action. Then occupied by the Army Signal Corp, it became the first US-based facility to track Sputnik.
For 500 hours, from Oct. 5 until the satellite’s batteries ran out, 30 Deal Test Site engineers (who called themselves the “Royal Order of Sputnik Chasers”) worked unofficially around the clock, seven days a week and without overtime pay, to detect and record Russian signals.
Schodowski spent his career as a scientist at Ft. Monmouth in Eatontown. In 1991, the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame honored him as a “NJ Inventor of the Year” for his patented design of a quartz sensing device used widely in today’s communication systems. He and his wife, Mary, have lived in the Wayside section where they raised their eight children since 1957.