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The Kettering Group

Tyneside, UK
2024 Jul 24
Wednesday, Day 206

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A View from Near the Beginning

I was one of the founder pupil members of the Kettering Grammar School Satellite Tracking Group, starting in 1963. I was involved with the recording and analysing of Cosmos satellite signals that culminated in the discovery of a new Russian launch site in 1966.

When Mr Perry set up an experiment simply to demonstrate the Doppler Effect, none of us could have predicted what was to happen a few years later. I remember the excitement when we picked up signals from Cosmos 112, the first satellite to be launched from Plesetsk on 17 March 1966, that showed to us that it could not have been launched from either of the two known launch sites. Mr Perry wrote a letter to Flight International, which produced little or no response. He also informed the local newspaper.

Mr Perry asked some of the pupils to be in the Science Lab at 9.00am on the morning of 18th April. When I arrived, Mr Perry and Mr Slater were already there and we were soon joined by other pupils. Very shortly a reporter and a camera crew from ATV Television arrived and they started moving everything around to get ‘the best shot’. It was my first experience of film or TV recording and it seemed to take an eternity just to get a short sequence that they were happy with.

We were told that it would appear that evening on ATV Today, a local news programme that ran after the main six o' clock news bulletin. I rushed home to ensure that my family were ready to watch it. It was very strange, yet exciting, to see myself on television for the first time. I wondered how many of my friends had seen it or read the headlines in the newspaper. When I walked into Kettering town centre the following day I felt like a film star and I expected lots of people to recognise me. Needless to say this didn’t happen!

In October 1966 the launch of Cosmos 129 into a slightly different orbit to Cosmos 112 enabled us to pinpoint the precise location of the Plesetsk launch site. Mr Perry announced this at the Autumn Meeting of the British Interplanetary Society in London. He also got it into print with another letter to Flight International.

Into the Limelight

With a nudge from Dr Charles Sheldon of the Library of Congress in the USA, the world’s press finally took notice and descended upon Kettering at the start of the school’s Christmas holiday in December 1966. On Wednesday 21st December we gathered once more in the Science Lab – Mr Perry, Mr Slater and a number of pupils – in front of the representatives from the national newspapers as well as the television news channels. We became stars overnight.

Over the years we were invited to attend science events at the Savoy Hotel and the Science Museum, and meet our local MP in the House of Commons, to mention just a few, as well as being the subject of a number of cartoons in the daily newspapers.

This is a brilliant example of what a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher can achieve with his pupils. His lessons were always informative and fun. Those pupils lucky enough to be involved with the Satellite Tracking Group were taught the importance of accurate data recording and analysis to the success of any practical experiment. Most of the Group members, including myself, went on to study Physics at university and we will always remember what we learnt from Mr Perry.

Michael Sinnett
Sheffield, 2016 January

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