INTERVIEW WITH ROY WELCH
INTERVIEWER: .Tape number 10150, date 15th of March '96, an interview with Roy Welch. OK, everyone happy?
ROY WELCH: Yeah.
INT: Roy, can I ask you first of all what were you doing in 1957 and where?
RW: In 1957 I was working for Southwestern Bell telephone company in Dallas, Texas as an engineer and had been there a little over one year at that time.
INT: And why does October '57 have so many memories for you?
RW: Well, we had been there about a year and it was about this time that Sputnik was launched into orbit (clears throat) which had great interest for me as far as that's concerned. I was fascinated I guess with space in general and to see something happen that I had always known could happen but wasn't quite ready for it when I saw it announced and this was to get a satellite into earth orbit.
INT: Could you talk me through the day… what happened when you found out about Sputnik?
RW: (overlap) Yes. Well I left the office at the end of the day, walked out of the building and as I turned down the street to go to the car pool meeting spot to meet the other people that were riding with me, I saw down the street newspaper headlines approximately two inches in height, big black bold headlines, and I couldn't make it out yet, but as I got closer I noticed it said something to the effect and I can't remember the exact wording 'Russians orbit baby moon' or 'Russians orbit earth satellite', to that effect, and I was astounded, if you will. Several emotions I guess conflicting emotions. The first one was I was very excited and interested in what had gone on and marveled at the technology that had just occurred that had put this thing into orbit. And secondly, rather disappointed that we had not done this first when I felt surely that we could have probably done this at least two years earlier.
INT: So what did you then do?
RW: I couldn't wait very long for the car pool to get there. I wanted to get home rather quickly and as I got home, I had an amateur radio station in my house and the equipment that I had in my,.
(Interruption - sound of airplane)
INT: OK, could I pick you up again so what happened, you know, on that evening?
RW: Well it was all I could to wait to get home that evening with the car pool, to get to my radio equipment. I had an amateur radio station in my house. The normal equipment that I used did not cover the frequencies that I had read out of the newspaper (unintelligible) that it… as to where it was broadcasting. But I did have a surplus World War II receiver out in the garage, big large rack-mounted, a piece of equipment that I couldn't get into the house. So I ran out there right away, powered that thing up, turned it on and tuned it down to a little over 20 megahertz, about 20 point zero zero two or three, somewhere along in there, and not really expecting to hear anything but almost immediately there was a signal beeping way in the background. It was not a strong signal, so it wasn't anywhere near us but it was definitely there. I decided to wait just a little bit, just to make sure, but I waited over an hour and it was still there and it was varying in signal strength so I knew probably that I had heard the signal at that time.
INT: What did that mean to you?
RW: More or less the same wonder that I had heard before or that I had experienced before that somebody had put something in orbit and that the headlines were.
INT: Can I just stop you there, just. (unintelligible). could say 'hearing that signal meant that' (unintelligible) if I could say to you, what did hearing that signal mean for you?
RW: Oh, OK. Hearing a signal meant that what I saw in the headlines was true, that this thing was indeed probably in orbit and that the Russians had indeed beat us into space with a satellite being put in orbit around the earth. I was again rather disappointed that we had not been there first but still that was a secondary feeling. My primary feeling was 'here is something that we can play with'. It's something we can watch, something new to experience.
INT: Can you tell me a little bit about what you think the importance of Sputnik was and by that I mean, you know…it was the first?
RW: I think perhaps the importance of Sputnik was the fact that it galvanized the United States into getting into the space business again. I think there was probably the desire among the scientists and other people that thought we could do this and wanted to do it, but there wasn't the backing I guess from the government or the finances that were available for it and if nothing else did it. This happening finally got things rolling and almost immediately it seems like we were in the space business.
INT: So what happened after? You'd managed to tune your radio set in, then what happened?
RW: Well each night for the next couple of nights I would listen for this thing when I got in from work and on the night of the 6th, which was 2 days after it was launched, I had the radio on in the garage and my daughter who was 2 at the time, had learned by this time that she could stay up later if she volunteered to go out and watch for Sputnik, as she had learned it was named. So we would take a pallet out and lay it in the driveway in front of the garage, lay it down on a couple of pillows and face to the south-west which was where this thing was coming from and listen to it on the radio. It would grow stronger and stronger and stronger, then we'd begin to see in the south-west a flash of light and then darkness, a little flash of light once again. And as it got closer, we could see it wasn't really flashing -- it was just getting brighter and dimmer as it tumbled end over end and we realized at that time we were not seeing the satellite. What we were seeing was the last stage booster rocket, still in orbit, and it was leading the satellite by some 3 minutes. It was already starting to decay and come back in. We could not see the satellite but we could hear it and the significance to me was such that I just felt goose-bumps all over sitting there hearing that thing and then watching the rocket casing going over at the same time.
INT: So what happened when you got home and you heard the signal?
RW: Well, when I heard the signal the first night or so it took me a while to get used to when to expect this thing but on the night of the 6th, I was all set up with the radio receiver, had a tape recorder hooked to it and my daughter, who was 2 at the time, found that she could stay up later and not go to bed quite as early if she volunteered to go out and help me watch for Sputnik. So we turned on the radio and I turned on my tape recorder and then we went out and lay down and waited and listened for the signal to get stronger and stronger and as we sat there, we begin to see in the south-west a little flash of light in the sky and then it would go on and off and get brighter and then we noticed it was not really going on and off, but getting brighter and dimmer as the object we saw was tumbling end over end. And it was then when we realized that this was not Sputnik but it was the final booster stage that had put Sputnik in an orbit and later I determined that Sputnik was probably following behind about 3 minutes from that. And after that pass was over with went in and turned off the tape recorder and what I have here is a copy of that tape that I made that night.
INT: So what is this noise that we're listening to, Roy?