Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

So many dates, now seared into our memory, began like every other day with no indication that it would leave a lifelong scar — Dec. 7, June 6, Sept. 11, Nov. 22. Although all last week we were reminded Oct. 4 was the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, it was a surprise when our first born son sent an e-mail recalling his thoughts as a 12-year-old standing in the backyard watching the night sky for a glimpse of that tiny object.

Oct. 4, 1957, was a beautiful fall day in northern Ohio until a news flash interrupted the radio program. The Soviets had launched something called a Sputnik into space. To space illiterates what did that mean? Because it had been done by the Russians it was easy to be fearful and uneasy.

On that day I had no idea that I would be living in Crossville fifty years later and there I would learn how that day in 1957 touched the professional life of a Crossville man.

As the story unfolded, Sputnik translated into English was “fellow traveler” or “traveling companion” and it emitted a beep-beep sound back to earth. Eventually we learned it was 23 inches in diameter and weighed 183 pounds. For about 22 days we watched the light cross the sky until the batteries ran out.

Even the team of Russian scientists responsible for the launch were unprepared for the reaction across the world. It has taken 50 years for those in the team still living to be able to speak and give all the details.

Boris Chertok, now 95, was one of the founders of the Soviet space program but for all those years he dared not speak about the launch of Sputnik. The names of that team who performed the daring feat remained a state secret. As the 50th anniversary drew near, they were finally permitted to talk to a small group of reporters.

Now we know the underlying fear the world felt was justified. The nuclear threat and the Cold War was the combination that set up the race for the Russians to beat the Americans into space. They were working to develop a rocket capable of striking our country with a hydrogen bomb because they feared we were about to launch a satellite. Their bomb satellite had hit a snag but the team convinced the government to allow an early launch of “Prosteishiy Sputnik” — the Simplest Satellite.

Chertok admitted that although they were happy with the successful launch of the first satellite to orbit Earth they did not realize how successful it had been until “the entire world ran amok.” It was then they knew “it was a turning point in the history of civilization.”

He also disclosed that the tiny light millions watched in the sky was not Sputnik but the second stage of the satellite's spent rocket booster traveling about the same path.

The U.S. was determined to answer the challenge but in December of 1957 their first attempt to launch a satellite into space failed. In January 1958, their second try was successful. In July NASA was established and early in April 1959, the first group of astronauts, the “Mercury Seven” was introduced.

The month after Sputnik made its wake-up call the Soviets launched a dog into space. That first living creature to orbit died during the flight. In May 1959, the U.S. sent two monkeys, Able and Baker, to become the first living creatures to survive a space flight.

Enter one of Crossville’s own, Dr. Elmo S. Dooley. As a member of the Bio-Medical Launching Team he spent more than two weeks at the Army’s Missile Firing Laboratory at Cape Canaveral, FL selecting, training and preparing monkey Able for her historic flight.

Son of Mrs. B.L. Dooley, he had served as a consultant in bacteriology on the medical staff of Uplands Cumberland Medical Center until he was selected to organize the Microbiological Laboratory of the Army Medical Research Center in 1958.

Dr. Dooley was in town for a short visit with his wife Betty and two sons Walter and Joe in June. Following the successful flight he was commended personally by NASA officials. He continued his observation of Able during the post flight period at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Sputnik did change the world.

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