Sputnikfest Commemorates Spacecraft’s 1962 Crash in Manitowoc, WI

Sputnikfest annual festival commemorates the day a chunk of the Soviet Sputnik 4 spacecraft fell from the sky and crash landed in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
Sputnikfest in Manitowoc celebrates the crash of Sputnik IV in 1962

The Sputnik IV spacecraft was launched into space on May 15, 1960 to study life-support systems that were later used in the manned Vostok craft. Four days later, when it was suppose to return to Earth, the reentry procedure was botched and Sputnik went off course.

Way off course.

The craft ascended into a higher orbit from which it would not return for over two years. The descent module finally reentered Earth’s atmosphere on September 5, 1962, breaking up and scattering chunks of smoldering metal for miles.

Sputnik IV crash debris found in Wisconsin

Residents of Manitowoc, Wisconsin reported seeing as many as 24 pieces falling from the sky that morning, some plummeting toward the ground with a sound like thunder. At the intersection of North 8th and Park, just feet from the Rahr-West Art Museum, a 20-pound piece of debris embedded itself in the street.

Two police officers on patrol spotted the chunk of metal in the street and, believing it fell off of a truck, decided to leave it. It wasn’t until later, when they heard the news about Sputnik, that they realized what they had found.

Sputnik crash debris on display in Manitowoc

The debris was eventually returned to the Soviets, but a cast of it remains on display at the art museum.

Sputnik landed here…why don’t you?

Miss Space Debris contest at Sputnikfest

The “wacky tacky” Sputnikfest has been held in Manitowoc every September since 2008 to commemorate the crash. Visitors dress up in tinfoil hats and alien costumes, compete for the title of Miss Space Debris, and gather for a re-enactment of the circumstances surrounding Sputnik’s crash by the Masquers Community Theater.

Judging by the Coneheads and vodka, however, it may not be completely historically accurate.

Sputnik crash site in Manitowoc, Wisconsin

A brass ring in the street marks the spot where Sputnik crashed. Locals recommend you put your fingers on it and make a wish.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, bring your diving gear. According to reports, the largest piece of the satellite was seen splashing into Lake Michigan…and was likely never recovered.

For information on the dates and times of this year’s celebration go here: Sputnikfest

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments