Editor: Due to an editorial oversight, the November 11th article in the This Week In Space History series was not posted last Sunday. Here it is now. Our apologies.
by michael shinabery
When the Soviet Sputnik went up on Oct. 4, 1957, so did hundreds of amateur telescopes across America. They were already in the hands of school students as part of Operation Moonwatch, given to them by astronomer Dr. Fred Whipple, director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Mass.
Whipple, who was born on Nov. 5, 1906, wanted youth to view meteors and comets during the International Geophysical Year (July 1957-December 1958). For scientific viewing, the student amateurs participated alongside “tens of thousands of professional scientists from sixty-seven different nations staff(ing) hundreds of stations around the globe,” said “Moonwatch: Keep Watching the Skies.” For satellite spotting, Whipple’s network was ideal for tracking the Soviet hardware. The students reported their sightings to the SAO, which then computed the orbital data.
The New Mexico Museum of Space History displays two Operation Moonwatch telescopes, which were actually used in Alamogordo. A family whose father had died was sorting through his mementoes, discovered the instruments, and donated them.
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