In Their Own Words: Norm Sears on Sputnik
Norm Sears worked at Draper before, during, and after the Apollo missions; for a total of 41 years.
"October 4th, 1957, that was the day Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union. It was the launch of the first man made satellite by the Soviet Union. At that time, the fact that the Russians were working on artificial satellite was well known. The United States had a similar program to put an artificial satellite into orbit. So the fact that the Russians were building such a satellite was not new. What was totally different and unexpected was the reaction throughout the world to that accomplishment. And that was really the spark start of the space race and space age as far as manned space flight went.
On a more personal note I remember that day very vividly, for another reason. And that is that my family had just added a daughter. It was my turn for a 4 a.m. feeding and that was the ideal time to see this new satellite around the earth. You had to be in the dark, the sunlight had to be on the satellite. Sputnik was only the size of a volleyball and you could not see that with the naked eye. But what you did see very vividly was the booster rocket that put that satellite in orbit and at 4 a.m. I walked down on my back porch with my daughter in my arms and much to my utter amazement that satellite came virtually over my house.
That was very interesting to see for another reason. Astronomers had figured out orbital celestial mechanics centuries ago by watching planets, comets, our own moon. The technology or the theories were very well known and established by their measurements. What was different about this however was that it was close and as a result it moved very fast in the sky compared to others. That orbit only lasted 90 minutes. Our natural satellite the moon is 28 days so it moves very slowly and is hard to detect motion. You had no such problem with Sputnik. It was a very spectacular sight to see it come over the sky. It move fast compared to anything else. It was bright.
When I saw that it donned on me that this was no longer just theories that I'd read about. This really worked and it was a real moment for me. As a side note my daughter claims to this day when she wants to humor me she remembers that night very well."