June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:41 PM
"Many middle aged men revert to their youth by buying sports cars and gold chains. I'm too cheap for that and besides, my cars always get dented and the 10 karat gold I can afford turns green in days. So I'm reverting to my youth by scanning the skies for an artificial satellite, just as I did in 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik.Something about the International Space Station has caught my fancy, like nothing else in orbit since Sputnik. So I plan to go to Double Bluff which faces due south at 5:41 p.m. today and look for the ISS. With its solar panels extended, it's supposed to be brighter than a cop's Mag light on a dark night.It'll only be visible for two minutes, so I might even be able to survive that arctic weather blast that has paralyzed the Northwest's TV weatherpeople.I haven't gone outside to specifically look for a satellite since the early days of the space race, starting with Sputnik, which my remarkable memory supplemented by the Internet recalls having been shot into orbit on Oct. 4, 1957. As I remember it, our whole family went out into the front yard, craned our necks, and scanned the dark skies for the orbiting tribute to communism. The New York Times quoted the Soviet government as saying, The new socialist society turns even the most daring of man's dreams into a reality. Of course, that was assuming that Russians weren't dreaming of bread or freedom.We kids claimed we saw Sputnik, but it wasn't a verifiable spotting. The longer you look up, the more the heavens seem to move. After vertigo sets in the entire galaxy is spinning, and any one of the stars could be Sputnik. Ham radio operators could hear it beeping, which the U.S. government found very annoying.Sputnik, which translates into in your eye, capitalist pig, was the first artificial satellite and scared the bejeebers out of the U.S. military and politicians. It sent the country into a frenzy of what The New York Times called paranoia and self doubt. Sputnik weighed 184 pounds, compared to a 21-pounder the United States was hoping to launch into orbit someday. Sputnik crossed the U.S. seven times a day, and might have been carrying a nuclear bomb. There was even a rumor that the Soviets were going to nuke the moon as a demonstration. During an eclipse the Today Show focused its black and white camera on the moon, but disappointingly there was no big flash. But the beeping alone was enough to create paranoia. The U.S. finally launched its puny 18-pound Explorer in on Feb. 1, 1958, but by then the Russians had already launched Laika the dog into space. The candy shelves in stores were filled with Sputnik bubble gum, which seemed downright unpatriotic. It was a round green ball with spikes coming out and tasted sour, probably so candy manufacturers wouldn't be accused of being sweet on communism.Eventually American sent up Early Bird, a big communications satellite which everyone was supposed to be able to see. We craned our necks at that one, too, and thought we saw it. But nothing generated as much excitement as Sputnik. I'm sure that tonight I'll see something bright that has to be the International Space Station. Or maybe a 747 coming into Sea-Tac. "