Québec / Canada and the simplest satellite, the PS-1 spacecraft, in other words Sputnik 1: An overview of what was published in the French language Québec press between 5 and 12 October 1957, Part 2

The simplest satellite or PS-1 spacecraft, in other words Sputnik I, a little before its launch, September 1957. NASA.

Hello there, my reading friend fascinated by astronautics. Would you like to start reading, without further delay, this second part of the text on the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, which concerns us today? Two brief seconds, you say? I will give you three… One, two…

On 8 October 1957, readers of La Patrie, a daily from Montréal, Québec, learned that researchers at the Radio Physics Laboratory of the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment of the Defence Research Board (DRB), a federal agency, in Ottawa, Ontario, had detected radio signals from the Soviet satellite during the evening of 5 October. The dispatch mentioned the source of this information, a spokesperson for said laboratory, James C.W. “Jim” Scott. The satellite was detected no less than 17 times between 5 and 7 October, he said. Canadian researchers managed to pick up signals for 25 minutes during one of the artificial mini-moon’s passes. It should be noted that, with no precise data on the satellite’s orbit, Canadian researchers did not know where it was at any given time.

And yes, the DRB has been mentioned several times in blog / bulletin / thingee what since December 2018.

On the strength of some more or less direct comments from Scott, the journalist who spoke with him thought that, unwittingly of course, the Soviet satellite could help Canadian and American defence researchers. Indeed, in order to be picked up on Earth, its signals had to pass through the ionosphere, a region of the atmosphere which seriously affected telecommunications and, you guessed it, detection systems of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) intercontinental ballistic missiles with (thermo)nuclear warheads which might one day be launched towards North America. In that regard, the Soviet satellite was more useful than would be the one the United States planned to launch. Indeed, the latter would not fly over Canada.

It should be noted that L’Action catholique and Le Progrès du Saguenay, 2 dailies from Québec, Québec, and Chicoutimi, Québec, published large articles derived from the article written for a major daily, Toronto Daily Star of Toronto, Ontario, by the vice-president of DRB. John Edgar Keyston said (typed?) he was convinced that a human being, all right, all right, a male Homo sapiens, it was 1957, let’s not forget, was going to walk on the Moon before the end of the 20th century.

Keyston added that the challenge launched by the Soviet satellite, which in fact represented a first step towards interplanetary travel, would ensure that this first human being would not be a citizen of the USSR. Yours truly does not think Keyston believed that this human being would be Canadian. He would in all likelihood be American.

As you know, the British Canadian researcher’s predictions proved correct. Two American gentlemen mentioned in June, July and September 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee, Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Junior, treaded this lunar soil where the hand of man had never set foot in July 1969.

This being said (typed?), for Keyston, the big conclusion to be drawn from the launch of the Soviet satellite was that the strong lead that Western countries had over the USSR in 1945 in military technology and in almost all fields related to applied sciences no longer existed in 1957. Worse still, the USSR was a little ahead in some cases.

If yours truly may be permitted a brief comment, I am not convinced that the main battle tanks the United States and United Kingdom widely used in 1945 had a strong lead over those of the USSR. As Jean-René Chotard, one of my history teachers at the Université de Sherbrooke, in Sherbrooke, Québec, my homecity, once said, a long time ago, Soviet tanks are really something. Being strongly attached to my old bones, figuratively and literally, I would have been far more comfortable, figuratively but not literally in this case, aboard a Soviet T-34 than aboard an American Medium Tank, M4, Sherman or a British Tank, Cruiser, Mark VIII, Cromwell had I run into a Panzerkampfwagen V Panther or, worse still, a Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger.

In a completely different vein, still on 8 October, La Patrie published a satirical poem whose author used the pen name Le Guetteur, translated therein, rather poorly I will admit.

Moscow played bowls

And launched its satellite

And so here is a “bug”

Which has made the crowds talk.

First step to the Moon,

The “bauble” of the Soviets,

A monstrous toy,

Fills a gap, it is said.

As if the millions of stars

Dotted by God in the beautiful blue sky

Were not enough for the heavens.

We add a new star.

This little tin sphere

Which in the great outdoors

Passes and passes

Shy, carrying in its flanks

A message for humans

A voice from the ether

Which more and more gets lost

And will disappear tomorrow.

We must not shun science

But one must shun pride,

And those who on the threshold

Of infinity launch heavy with impatience

This here red “bauble”

They announced to the four corners of the globe

But forget that that microbe

That miserable device, that bait,

Another form of propaganda,

Now only rolls in the night

By the permission of the One

Who created everything, even the “gang”

Which reigns in Moscow

And which, if it does not humble itself

And in Him does not trust,

Will go to war.

Let us wrap up… this overview of 8 October, ahh, gotcha! Let’s conclude this overview, say I, with a photograph of Toronto amateur radio operator R. Gilbert “Gil” Stevens, one of the first Canadian amateur radio operators to pick up signals from the Soviet artificial satellite. Said photograph was published by Le Progrès du Saguenay.

Toronto amateur radio operator R. Gilbert Stevens. Anon., “–.” Le Progrès du Saguenay, 8 October 1957, 1.

Toronto amateur radio operator R. Gilbert Stevens. Anon., “–.” Le Progrès du Saguenay, 8 October 1957, 1.

Toronto amateur radio operator Cecil Ludlow. Anon., “–.” Le Nouvelliste, 9 October 1957, 10.

Toronto amateur radio operator Cecil Ludlow. Anon., “–.” Le Nouvelliste, 9 October 1957, 10.

Let us start our 9 October flyby with another photograph of a Toronto amateur radio operator. Said photograph appeared in Le Nouvelliste, a daily newspaper from Trois-Rivières, Québec. It showed Cecil Ludlow with the tape recorder he had used to record signals from the Soviet satellite.

Would you believe that this photograph was also published in the January 1958 issue of Practical Wireless? Better yet, would you believe that the editor of this monthly British amateur radio operator magazine, Frederick James Camm, was a younger brother of Sydney Camm, one of the most famous aeronautical engineers of the 20th century, the engineer, say I, behind famous aircraft such as the Hawker Hart, Hawker Hurricane, Hawker Sea Fury and Hawker Siddeley Harrier.

And yes, the phenomenal collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa includes a Hurricane, a Sea Fury and a Harrier, an AV-8 Harrier to be precise, as well as a Hawker Hind, an improved version of the Hart, but back to our story.

On 9 October, as they flew over the area of ​​Vancouver, British Columbia, at an altitude of about 5 500 metres (18 000 feet), which was quite high for a light / private airplane of the time, a pilot and a photographer saw, a little before 5:30 a.m., local time, an object resembling a star streaking in the sky. Said object was only visible for about 3 seconds. Was it the Soviet satellite? I do not know.

Usually well-informed, the Montréal daily Le Devoir made a major booboo in its 9 October edition, announcing, in translation, on the front page and in large type, that “The USSR is launching a second satellite.” Other dailies, Le Nouvelliste (“Another Russian satellite”), as well as La Tribune (“Russia launches another satellite”) in Sherbrooke, for example, made the same mistake.

As was said (typed?) above, the USSR launched its second satellite only in November 1957. The management of the wandering dailies seemed to have misinterpreted information according to which the rocket which placed the first satellite in orbit, or at least an element of said rocket, also circulated around the Earth at high speed.

Showing a little more accuracy, the influential Montréal daily La Presse mentioned, in one of the articles devoted to the Soviet satellite in its edition of that same 9 October, that observers from the United States Army stationed at the Churchill Rocket Research Range, not far from Churchill, Manitoba, managed to observe it on 8 October for about 2 minutes, at dawn or dusk I could not say.

The presence of American military personnel at the Churchill Rocket Research Range was not surprising. This base was built by the United States Army in 1956 under the aegis of the aforementioned DRB. At the time, Canadian and American teams at Churchill were carrying out work related to the International Geophysical Year, a period of more than a year mentioned in Part 1 of this article.

In turn, let us mention in passing that Peter S. Beadle, the director of the Defence Research Northern Laboratory of the DRB, in Churchill, indicated that said lab had picked up signals from the Soviet satellite around 8 October.

During the afternoon or evening of 8 October, a representative of the DRB announced that, following 3 days of uninterrupted work, including on Sunday, researchers from this organisation and, it seems, the National Research Council had succeeded in defining, within 80 kilometres (50 miles), the trajectory of the Soviet satellite, which made it possible to assess its position and altitude at any time during the day. No other country in the world, apart from the USSR of course, seemed to have such precise data, believed the representative of the DRB. These same data would greatly facilitate the task of astronomers who wished to observe the Soviet satellite.

The representative of the DRB confirmed that the information provided by the USSR about the inclination of the satellite’s orbit and the wavelengths of its radio transmitters was entirely correct. The USSR providing useful and accurate information? Heaven, be still my heart! Sorry. Canadian researchers were among the first in the world to confirm the information provided by the USSR.

The representative of the DRB may well have been the source of the news that Canadian researchers had seen the Soviet satellite for the first time in the early morning hours of 7 October, I believe. It was then flying over Cochrane, Ontario, at an altitude of about 580 kilometres (360 miles). And no, yours truly has no idea of what a team of researchers was doing more than 600 kilometres (375 miles) north of Toronto. Could it have taken an airplane to observe the satellite? Who knows…

What was no mystery was the fact that, according to the representative of the DRB, it appeared the satellite was losing 5 or so kilometres (3 miles) of altitude every day. It thus completed each orbit a little bit faster. Canadian researchers were among the first in the world to note this fact. While Soviet researchers seemed to believe that the satellite would only stay in orbit for about 2 weeks, some believed it could circle the Earth for several weeks, if not a few months.

Would you believe that the rate at which the satellite was losing altitude provided researchers with valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere?

By the way, the superintendent of the aforementioned Radio Physics Laboratory, Peter Allan Forsyth, said in an interview that Canadian researchers seriously doubted that the satellite would fall on Canadian soil. In fact, they did not even know if it would fall apart or hit the ground intact.

Forsyth gave little credence to the hypothesis of a British researcher, in all likelihood Sir Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell, the first director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, in England, that meteorites would destroy the Soviet satellite, or move it away from its path. While it was quite possible for (very) small meteorites to strike said satellite, Forsyth argued, their very smallness would reduce their effect to nothing.

In fact, what Lovell was talking about was a possible, and potentially fatal, collision between the Soviet satellite and the countless elements of the Draconids / Giacobinids, a meteor shower linked to comet 21P / Giacobini-Zimmer, but well, let us move on. And yes, said Lovell was mentioned in 2 September 2019 issues of our you know what. The Jodrell Bank Observatory was mentioned in these same issues and in August 2020 as well, but back to our story.

Forsyth and / or the journalist collecting his comments were wrong when they talked about meteorites, and not about meteoroids. A meteoroid is a rocky or metallic object that travels through space. If a meteoroid of a certain size enters the atmosphere of the Earth, friction with molecules of gas present up there heat it up, thus creating a beautiful / frightening streak of light in the sky, in other words a meteor. If a meteoroid is large enough, it will punch its way through said atmosphere and hit the Earth, either in one piece or not. The part(s) of the meteoroid that hit the Earth are / is called a meteorite.

As we have known for several years now, Forsyth was also wrong when he said that meteoroids were not a danger. Meteoroids, even those of (very) small size, were / are in fact a real danger to space stations, satellites, space capsules and astronauts / cosmonauts. No one has been injured in orbit since the brief stay in space of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, a gentleman mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since July 2018, but one wonders if this lucky streak will continue for much longer.

Indeed, the Soviet military navigation satellite Kosmos 1275 may, I repeat may, have been the first satellite busted up by one or more meteoroids, in July 1981.

By the way, the first satellite to fall on Canadian soil, Kosmos 954, a Soviet maritime surveillance satellite whose systems were energised by a small nuclear reactor, crashed in January 1978. Its disintegration in the Earth’s atmosphere dispersed radioactive debris over approximately 125 000 square kilometres (48 000 square miles) in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. A nice shit storm, if I may be permitted a somewhat vulgar comment.

It should be noted in passing that a dozen residents of Edmonton, Alberta, claimed to have seen the Soviet satellite, Sputnik I evidently, on 8 October. A meteorologist and physicist who taught at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Edward Hunter “Ted” Gowan, believed instead that these people had seen light reflected on the fuselage of an airplane.

The 3 staff members of the David Dunlap Observatory who predicted the time of at least one passage of the first Soviet satellite over Toronto, Ontario. Left to right, Helen Battles Sawyer Hogg, John Frederick Heard and Donald Alexander McRae, Richmond Hill, Ontario. Anon., “–.” Le Nouvelliste, 9 October 1957, 10.

The 3 staff members of the David Dunlap Observatory who predicted the time of at least one passage of the first Soviet satellite over Toronto, Ontario. Left to right, Helen Battles Sawyer Hogg, John Frederick Heard and Donald Alexander McRae, Richmond Hill, Ontario. Anon., “–.” Le Nouvelliste, 9 October 1957, 10.

In Richmond Hill, Ontario, near Toronto, 3 staff members of the University of Toronto’s David Dunlap Observatory, Helen Battles Sawyer Hogg, John Frederick Heard and Donald Alexander “Don” McRae, managed to predict the time of at least one passage of the Soviet artificial satellite over Toronto on 8 October (?), with only 7 minutes of error.

Yours truly must admit that I wondered if Hogg, Heard and McRae were part of the team mentioned a few pages above which managed to define, within 80 kilometres (50 miles), the trajectory of the Soviet satellite.

I must also confess to having swum in a thick fog for some time when it came to Heard’s career, Le Nouvelliste having spelled his name John Hearn. In 1957, Heard was the director of the David Dunlap Observatory. He also taught astronomy at the University of Toronto, just like McRae and Hogg. And yes, Heard was mentioned in the first part of this article.

Like Heard, McRae was one of the most distinguished Canadian astronomers of his generation. A detail if I may. McRae was the star of Universe, a 1960 documentary released by the National Film Board, a world famous organisation mentioned in several issues of our you know what since July 2018.

Would you believe that one of the 2 co-directors of Universe, the Canadian Roman Kroidor, was one of the co-founders of Multiscreen Corporation Limited, a Canadian firm which later became IMAX Corporation, a firm whose technology was / is known worldwide?

Would you believe that a young American director stumbled upon a recording in which Kroidor mentioned an indefinable something, a force, that many members of our species experience in their lifetimes? That person’s name? George Walton Lucas, Junior, and may the Force be with you, my reading friend.

The second co-director of Universe, equally Canadian Colin Archibald Low, was later part of the crew working on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The person who achieved the fabulous animated optical effects of Universe, the Canadian Walter “Wally” Gentleman, was also part of the team working on this feature film, one of the greatest science fiction films of the 20th century, mentioned in several issues of our you know what since July 2018. In fact, certain scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey quite resembled certain scenes from Universe.

May I be permitted to suggest that you watch Universe? Listen carefully because there will be a test…

Do you recognise the voice of the narrator, my reading friend? His name was / is Douglas James Rain. This Canadian lent his voice to, yes, yes, HAL 9000, the insane computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You can also see Universe in French, at

Do you recognise the voice of the narrator, my reading friend? His name was / is Gilles Pelletier. Would you believe that this great Québec actor played the part of the captain of the schooner La Gentille, one of the main characters of the soap opera Rue de l’Anse mentioned in the first part of this article? Small world, isn’t it?

Universe was one of the most widely distributed documentaries of its time. All by itself, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a world-famous organisation mentioned several times since July 2018 in our you know what, reportedly ordered 300 copies of the film, but back to our story and, more specifically, the third member of the team at the David Dunlap Observatory that concerns us at the moment.

Hogg was an American Canadian astronomer whose career could not be more remarkable. The Canadian phase of said career began in 1931 when she moved to Canada with her Canadian spouse, Frank Scott Hogg, also an astronomer, who had just found a job in British Columbia, with the Astrophysics Division of the Dominion Observatory. Since this organisation did not have the financial resources to offer her a job, Hogg had to be content to help her spouse on a voluntary basis.

Hogg and her spouse moved to Richmond Hill in 1935 when said spouse landed a new job at the David Dunlap Observatory. She got her first job the following year as a research officer in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Toronto. A lecturer at this institution of high knowledge from 1941, Hogg rose through the ranks to become professor emeritus in 1976, the year of her retirement. Over the decades, she regularly shared the results of her work in the pages of the prestigious Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Realising the importance of bringing science to people of all ages, Hogg wrote a weekly column, With the Stars, which appeared in the Toronto daily Toronto Daily Star from around 1951. The last of these chronicles appeared more than 30 years later. Hogg also hosted a series of 8 television shows devoted to astronomy around 1970. This series was broadcasted by the Ontario Educational Communications Authority, a state television broadcaster commonly known in 2020 as TV Ontario.

Hogg died in January 1993 at the age of 87.

In a completely different vein, the aforementioned daily Le Nouvelliste reported in its 8 October edition that the superintendent of City Home, a hospice for the indigent in Halifax, Nova Scotia, A.E. Ettinger, possibly Albert Ernest Ettinger, was up in arms because an eccentric American author of self-help books who earned his bread in public relations, claimed, in the name of the mega (infinite?) state he had founded, the right to control the movement of objects made by human hands in all of interplanetary, intersidereal and intergalactic space, nothing less.

Better yet, this John Thomas Mangan seriously declared that no more the USSR than the United States had the right to travel in space unless they held discussions with the government of the Nation of Celestial Space. While he readily admitted that no legal recourse was possible, Mangan used the power inherent in persuasion and protest to have the USSR remove from the territory of the Nation of Celestial Space the satellite he deemed offensive.

Ettinger’s displeasure was due to the fact that he was convinced he had oversight rights over the movement in space of objects made by human hands. He had apparently submitted documents to that effect, concerning an interplanetary transport commission, in 1950. Better yet, Ettinger intended to contact the Soviet government in order to indicate to it that it should not infringe on the rights and privileges of his commission.

Ettinger obviously did not know that Mangan had deposited an official charter of the Nation of Celestial Space or, as it was more informally known, Celestia, at the office of the registrar of his county in January 1949. Utterly flabbergasted, said registrar contacted the county lawyers who suggested that he put the document in his vaults and stop thinking about it.

Please note that Mangan founded the Nation of Celestial Space on behalf of humanity so that no country in the world, not even the United States, could claim even the smallest cubic centimetre (approximately 0.05 cubic inch) of space vacuum – an admirable thought you will recognise.

Would you believe that the flag of the Nation of Celestial Space briefly flew on the site of the United Nations Organization building in New York in June 1958?

I found nothing else on Ettinger or Mangan that is worth noting.

And I think it would be a good idea to end this second part of our article on World Space Week 2020 without further delay.

See ya later, alligator.

Profile picture for user rfortier
Rénald Fortier