Winter 2006 Issue

DR. SETI’s STARSHIP

When Did We Become Obsolete?

By Dr. H. Paul Shuch, N6TX

Think back, if you are old enough (and if you are a member of The SETI League, demographics suggest you most likely are), to the exciting days of October 1957. The world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, had just been placed in orbit. It was launched by the USSR (that area of the world had been known by this acronym for two generations, although in America they still were collectively referred to as “The Russians”). If you, like me, were living in the U.S. at the time, you were being told that the USSR was an enemy nation, the Russians an enemy people. Your enemy was in space; you could hear them on 20 Mc (this was in the days before MHz)! America was suddenly a paranoid nation.

Think back, if you are old enough (and if you’re a radio amateur, statistics suggest you most likely are), to the frantic days immediately following Sputnik. The United States was trying desperately to play catch-up. Your high school guidance counselor was telling you, “You’re good at science. You’re good at math. Go and become an engineer; we will never have enough engineers to catch up to the Russians.” (At the same time, you learned years later, your friend Sasha Zaitsev in the USSR was being told by his high school guidance counselor, “You’re good at science. You’re good at math. Go and become an engineer; we will never have enough engineers to stay ahead of the Americans.”)

Think back, if you are not yet senile (and if you’re able to read this, there is still hope), to when you first got your ham radio license. The world that Sputnik had made smaller was suddenly shrinking even more. You could talk (okay, so it was probably via Morse Code) to other hams halfway around the world—maybe even to the dreaded Russians. Maybe they weren’t your enemy after all.

Think back, if you are old enough (and if you’ve read this far, I know you are), to the excitement of December 1961. With a little help from your USAF friends, a handful of ham radio operators had just launched OSCAR I, the world’s first non-government satellite. You could hear it on 145 Mc (this was still in the days before MHz)! Suddenly schools (the same ones that were training Americans to catch up with the Russians, and the same ones that were training Russians to stay ahead of the Americans) were activating ham radio clubs, building antennas, and pointing them . . . up!
 

Look around. Do you see many young faces in the crowd at a typical SETI League meeting? Well, neither do I. We all are becoming graybeards, and if that doesn’t concern us, perhaps it should. (WA2UNP photo)

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