Sputnik sighting means historic site for outhouse

Posted: Sunday, November 03, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The site of Dexter Stegemeyer's old outhouse now sports a plaque designating it as a historic place.

Fairbanks scientists Neil Davis and Neal Brown visited the landmark off Miller Hill Road and installed the plaque in mid-October, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

It all goes back to the morning of Oct. 6, 1957, when Stegemeyer was in his outhouse and all was well with the world. The door was open. As he looked up in the sky, he witnessed the dawn of a new age.

''Mr. Stegemeyer said he was just sitting there enjoying the beauty of the stars twinkling in the sky when he saw a strange moving star come up out of the west,'' Davis wrote about his neighbor who lived west of the University of Alaska. ''From its speed and uniform passage across the sky, he knew it could not be an airplane, a meteor or any other familiar phenomena.''

What Stegemeyer saw that morning was the Sputnik I satellite as it orbited the Earth. The launch of Sputnik signaled the start of the Space Age.

That same morning, scientists at the Geophysical Institute spotted Sputnik and for 20 years they were credited with being the first people in the Western Hemisphere to see a man-made satellite.

But Davis says Stegemeyer was first.

''His was the first sighting since he did see Sputnik lower in the western sky than did those at the Geophysical Institute.''

The satellite, 22 inches in diameter, beeped its way around the world for most of that month and re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and burned up in early 1958.

Stegemeyer's story of possibly being the first American to see the 184-pound orbiter is included in the new book by Paul Dickson, ''Sputnik: The Shock of the Century.''

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