Sputnik’s Landing Site, Manitowoc, Wisconsin


Have you ever asked yourself, “I wonder where Sputnik crash-landed into Earth?”  Of course you haven’t.  But if you did, you’d find out Sputnik’s landing site is an unassuming stretch of road in Manitowoc, Wisconsin — a place that became a part of space history in the most random way possible.


Manitowoc is located along Interstate 43 on the route from Milwaukee to Green Bay.  It’s also located on the shore of Lake Michigan.  If you’re looking Sputnik’s landing site, head north of town on US 10, 8th Street, and look for the Rahr-West Art Museum, which is nearby.  You’ll find the landing site just north of the intersection of 8th and Park Streets.

My Visit

Manitowoc is split by the Manitowoc River.  It has a lovely riverfront, where you’ll find the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, complete with a restored World War II submarine.

Manitowoc is the seat of the county with the same name, and you’ll find its courthouse at the corner of Washington & 8th Streets.  But, that’s not the most noticeable building at that intersection.

Continue one block to the east on Washington Street, and you’ll get a good look at a set of huge silos, emblazoned with a massive Budweiser beer advertisement.  These are just three of 175 concrete silos that hold 4 million bushels of grain used in beer-making.  Anheuser Busch no longer owns the property, but it appears the new owners want to keep the local landmark in place.

But none of this is why you came to Manitowoc, is it?  Like everyone else, you came here to see where Sputnik crash-landed.

Sputnik’s Landing Site

First, we should start with a history lesson.  Sputnik was the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth.  It was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 and promptly kicked-off the space race. That Sputnik stayed above Earth for about three months, before burning up on re-entry.   That Sputnik is not the Sputnik that crashed in Manitowoc – this one was known as Sputnik-4, or Korabl-Sputnik 1.  It was launched in 1960 and slammed into Wisconsin on September 5, 1962.

A plaque embedded in the sidewalk near the crash site says the wreckage was recovered September 6th.  A couple of policemen on patrol first found it, thought it was junk, and kicked it to the curb.  Later, they realized what it might have been, and recovered it.  The Smithsonian confirmed that it was, indeed, a piece of Sputnik.  A couple of replicas were made, and the Soviets eventually took back the original.  One of those replicas is nearby, at the Rahr-West Art Museum — which is located next to Sputnik’s landing site.

And if you want to be very particular about the exact location of Sputnik’s landing site, you can step out into the middle of US 10, a.k.a. 8th Street, just north of Park Street, and observe a metal ring embedded into the asphalt.

Having used much of the afternoon exploring places like Manitowoc and Sheboygan, I was running out of time in my day.  I would spend the night in Green Bay before continuing north.

But along the way, I tried to find a good location to photograph the sunset.  Instead of returning to Interstate 43, I turned onto county route R (Wisconsin uses letters in place of numbers for county roads).  It roughly parallels the interstate but provides a nice scenic alternative through farmland.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive into Manitowoc…

… and out of Manitowoc, onto Green Bay around sunset:

The Bottom Line

I suppose that the crash-landing site of a piece of space junk from the 1960’s might not be worth a detour for some folks.  But for me, Sputnik’s landing site was such a bizarre attraction that I didn’t want to miss it.

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