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24 September 2014

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You are in: Northamptonshire > Features > Latest > Kettering's space race

Artist's impression of Vostok in orbit

An artist's version of Vostok in orbit

Kettering's space race

The race is on to save an important part of the nation's space history.

Part of Kettering's history is in danger of being lost for good.

An aerial on the top of Tresham Institute's building is all that remains of the Kettering Grammar School Satellite Tracking Station which became world famous in the 1960s for revealing secrets about the Soviet space programme.

Satellite tracking mast at Tresham Institute

The satellite tracking mast

The Tresham Institute building is due to be demolished soon, so a new home is being sought for the aerial, which is being seen as part of British space history.

The TV astronomer Sir Patrick Moore has vivid memories of the Kettering Grammar School group: "They built the satellite tracking station and did valuable work. They were acclaimed all over the world."

World headlines

In the 1960s and '70s, at the peak of the Cold War, a group of teachers and pupils from Kettering Grammar School managed to track Soviet satellites and manned space craft and hit the headlines around the world.

Derek Slater

Derek Slater

When the Kettering Group worked out the location of a new top secret Soviet launch site, they were catapulted to the front pages of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Boys Scoop Space Experts" roared one headline.

Yet the equipment they used was a Heath Robinson affair constructed by a chemistry teacher from Kettering Grammar School, Derek Slater.

Old minicab receiver used to listen into space

Minicab receiver used by the students

Derek explained that he made the aerial from small-bore gas copper tubing which was discarded from his parents' home when they had electricity connected in the late 1950s.

"And the receiver underneath it was modified from an ex-minicab," Derek added.

He fondly remembers those pioneering days: "It was good stuff; it was fun. It was very exciting"


Forty years on, the aerial that Derek built still stands on the roof of the old Kettering Grammar School building, now part of Tresham Institute.

Sir Patrick Moore

Sir Patrick Moore

The building will soon be pulled down as part of the redevelopment of Tresham Institute.

The Institute says the aerial is part of Kettering's history and Britain's space heritage and must be saved for the nation.

Olivia Morton from Tresham is determined to save the mast: "It is important that we keep this part of the history of Kettering, and the UK and the Space Race."

Sir Patrick Moore agrees: "Certainly it should be preserved… and the entire episode should be remembered because after all, it was unique." 

Science Museum

Tresham Institute is now having talks with the Science Museum in London about saving the aerial.

An exhibition is also being planned by the Tresham Institute celebrating the period when Kettering became part of the Space Race.

last updated: 23/07/07

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