The Beat Museum in North Beach


Sputnik I was launched on October 4, 1957. The fact that the Russians were in space and the U.S. was not was shocking due to the military implications. The fear in the US was the Russians could attach a nuclear bomb to the satellite and drop it on the US. We would have had absolutely no defense against such an attack.

The official story is Sputnik I burned up upon re-entry on January 4th, 1958. This is what most websites say, though a few mention January 2nd or 3rd. Upon closer inspection of the documentation, you discover the January 4th date (or January 2nd) was merely an agreed projection based upon the last signals received from the satellite and the degradation of Sputnik’s orbit. All news reports from 1957 indicate everyone in the world lost all contact with Sputnik I during the first week of December, 1957. The January 4, 1958 date is simply an agreed upon projection.

We here at The Beat Museum have recently discovered the official story may or may not be the full story. See, a guy came in The Beat Museum late one night in November, 2006 when I was sitting at the front desk . During the course of the conversation I discovered his name was Robert Heely and he was a well known surf artist. He'd painted many of the world's acclaimed professional surfers. After talking for a while Robert looked up at the model of Sputnik we use to tell the story of the Beats and said, "Oh, I see you have a model of Sputnik".

"Yeah, the Beats became the Beatniks who became the Hippies of the 1960's," I replied.

"Yeah, I've heard that," the guy said. "I know the guy who has the real one".

"The real what?"

"The real Sputnik".

"Get the hell out of here," I said. "Everybody knows Sputnik burned up on re-entry."

"That's what I thought, too," he said. "But I know this guy and I've seen the pieces and I really believe it's true."


"Here, write down the guys number and call him yourself".

So the next day, on a lark, I called the guy in Southern California. He was expecting my call and we had a terrific conversation. He seemed like a normal person in every way - I couldn't detect any tinfoil hats at all. A few days later a package showed up in the mail with photocopies and pictures and I was blown away. Here were letters on US Air Force stationary that read, "at the time you recovered the Sputnik parts". I couldn't know if it was true but I had a guy willing to swear he saw it all himself when he was eleven years old so I had to look at it more closely. A week later I drove to southern California to meet the man himself.

In 1957, Bob Morgan was an eleven year old boy living with his parents and visiting his grandparents and other family members on a ranch in southern California. Early in the pre-dawn morning of December 8, 1957 Bob’s father, who got up early for his job on the Southern Pacific Railroad, noticed a strange, brilliant glow out by a large oak tree on the property. When the family went to investigate they found a pile of what looked like glass lying in pieces at the base of the tree. The glass tube-like pieces (which turned out to be plastic) were glowing red with the effect looking like blood was flowing through the tubes. The adults kept the children at a distance because it was possible the glowing objects could have been dangerous.

The next day a family member, who is still alive today, was working as a waitress at a local restaurant when a customer asked if she’d heard about the $50,000 reward for Sputnik that was being offered by KDAY radio, a fifty thousand watt station with a reach over much of southern California. The family member turned on the radio and heard the KDAY DJ, Mark Ford, making the $50,000 offer herself many times over the next few days.

On December 10, 1957 Earl Thomas contacted KDAY radio DJ Mark Ford about the reward. He was instructed to come in the next day with the items he had found. When he arrived he and his wife were introduced to a representative from the US Air Force who asked they accompany him to a nearby Air Force office. When they arrived at the office they were joined by members of the US Army, the Navy and the Marines as well as the Office of Intelligence out of Cal Tech in Pasadena, California, all of whom showed top secret credentials to enter the governement facility.

The Air Force asked to take custody of the 12 items and said Thomas would receive the $50,000 within the next three days. Thomas said that would be fine as long as he received a receipt, which he did, written on US Air Force letterhead, signed by Commanding Officer Colonel Hess and witnessed by the radio DJ, Mark Ford.

A few weeks went by and, after repeated un-returned phone calls, the Thomas’ were able to secure an appointment with Colonel Hess. When they arrived at 2:00 they were told Colonel Hess was in, but they never met with him. Finally, after waiting for over two hours a Sergeant Jackson asked why they were waiting. Earl Thomas showed the sergeant his receipt and said he wanted to pick up his property. The sergeant said he’d seen the box of plastic items on the Colonel’s desk and that he’d get them. When the Thomas’ got the pieces back they noticed one five inch segment had been removed from the largest piece. This is how the Thomas’ got the plastic parts back.

Over the next 8 years the Thomas’ wrote dozens of letters to numerous State and Federal officials in an effort to claim the $50,000 reward. From 1958 through 1965 they wrote the following officials:

  • California Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown
  • U.S. Senator from California George Murphy
  • U.S. Senator from California Clair Engel
  • Secretary of the Air Force Curtis LeMay
  • President John F. Kennedy
  • President Lyndon Baines Johnson

The government claimed no reward was ever offered by the Air Force or the Federal Government. According to Earl Thomas, KDAY claimed they were working on behalf of the government. Years later, evidence came to light that the KDAY disc jockey, Mark Ford, had been a cryptologist (breaking Soviet Radio Broadcasts for the US Government) for the US Air Force prior to his work with the radio station.

Jerry Cimino
Director, The Beat Museum
January, 2007


Is it possible these really are the surviving parts of the original Sputnik I satellite?

We're trying to tell a story and at the same time we're looking for answers. Bob Morgan has been carrying this question for fifty years.

If some official on either side of The Cold War - someone who knows - can step forward and provide a difinitive answer as to what these parts really are and how they could have wound up glowing red near an oak tree in Encino, California on December 8, 1957 we (and Bob) would really like to know.

The Beat Museum exhibit of the original Sputnik I parts will open to the public very soon. We'll let you know when that happens so you can come to the Museum to view the exhibit and decide for yourself.


The family pursued the $50,000 reward for many, many years. There are dozens and dozens of letters between the Thomas’ and various government officials and agencies. One of these letters from the US Air Force written in response to a letter to President Kennedy actually mentions that Earl Thomas "recovered the Sputnik parts."

The Air Force came back to the family to re-recover the Sputnik parts after they had inadvertently been given back. They were told the family had hired a lawyer to handle the matter and the Air Force said they weren't interested in dealing with lawyers.

In the early 1960’s, after they had unsuccessfully been trying to claim their reward for eight years and the Air Force had returned a few more times, Earl Thomas buried the Sputnik pieces in a waterproof box under his house where they remained for the next twenty years.


The Beat Generation became known as the Beatniks due to the over-all hysteria of the Cold War. They were non-conformists living at a time when non-conformists were viewed with utmost suspicion. Sputnik was launched two weeks after Kerouac's "On The Road" hit the best seller list and the day after Ginsberg's "Howl" made headlines with the ruling that it had 'redeeming social value' and was hence "not-obscene".

Almost overnight the perception of the Beats went from being 'artistic intellectuals' to 'communist sympathizers' due to the launch of Sputnik and the term 'Beatnik' was a label that stuck.


Inside of Sputnik according to 1957 Soviet Magazine

U.S. Air Force receipt given to Earl Thomas

Letters and Parts

KDAY DJ Mark Ford discusses his government work

Parts Comparsion

A comparison of the parts found by Bob Morgan's family to an officially published photo in a Soviet magazine dated 1957 showing a purported description of the inside of Sputnik I.

Bob has done painstaking research over the years trying to determine if what his family found in 1957 really was Sputnik.

At one point he said to me," If it wasn't Sputnik that fell onto my grandparents property, I'm hoping and waiting for someone who can tell me exactly what it was. I was there! I saw it happen."
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