California man claims he has Sputnik remnants

SAN JOSE, Calif. (MCT) – Calling all rocket scientists. We mean real rocket scientists.

Bob Morgan, a 60-year-old jet-ski parts maker from the Santa Barbara, Calif., area, claims his family found pieces of Sputnik 1, the world’s first manmade satellite, that fueled the space race after its launching by the Soviet Union in 1957. And he’s looking for engineers, computer scientists and, yes, rocket scientists to help him verify their authenticity.

On Friday, Morgan held a press conference in San Francisco, where he made a plea to verify whether or not the plastic and metal wires that were found in his grandfather’s southern California backyard in December 1957 came from the actual Sputnik 1, which was said to have burned on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

He is appealing to Silicon Valley engineers because he knows that Sputnik served as an inspiration to many in the 1950s, getting them interested in science and the then-burgeoning field of electronics.

“We are looking for honest answers to an honest question,” said Jerry Cimino, the founder of the Beat Museum in San Francisco’s North Beach district.

Morgan said the plastic tubes, with burns on the ends, formed a complete ring about 18 or 19 inches in diameter when they were found glowing red in his grandparents’ backyard near Encino in early December 1957. They didn’t know what to do and moved them away from the house.

They soon heard of a $50,000 reward for Sputnik parts on the radio station KDAY. They brought the box with the 12 parts to the Los Angeles station, where they were met by Air Force representatives who took custody of the parts. They eventually got them back without a reward.

Many are skeptical, however.

“If this really had been pieces of Sputnik it would have been a huge deal,” said Paul Dixon, an author of a book, “Sputnik, The Shock of the Century”, which is the basis of a movie due out late this year. He said he has talked to many space experts who are skeptical that the parts are from Sputnik.

“I don’t doubt for a second that something fell from the air. It was a huge year for experimentation in Southern California, there was experimental aircraft, all sorts of stuff was going on,” Dixon said. But “it doesn’t match up with the pictures of Sputnik,” he said.

Dixon and others said Sputnik re-entered the earth’s atmosphere in January 1958, which is later than when Morgan said the parts were found. Morgan and Cimino said that data on the reentry may not be accurate; they said there were no sighting of Sputnik after the first week of December.

Still, Morgan’s Sputnik mystery has special resonance in Silicon Valley. The transformation of the Santa Clara Valley, from a land of orchards known as the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” into the world’s center of tech innovation, began after Sputnik was launched on October 4, 1957.

“It was a sea change for the scientific and aerospace community and the government,” said Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster. “It led to Kennedy’s statement about putting a man on the moon and returning. That created the first sales order for Silicon Valley.”

The Beat Museum has its own connection to Sputnik. The late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen coined the term “beatnik” – referring to a group of free-thinking poets and writers of the post-War era, such as Jack Kerouac. Caen took his inspiration from the word Sputnik.

A mock Sputnik that hangs in Cimino’s museum got the attention of a visitor, who told him he knew a guy with the real thing. Cimino spoke to Morgan and decided to help him in his quest.