About the Book

When the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, thousands of ordinary people across the globe seized the opportunity to participate in the start of the Space Age.

Known as the "Moonwatchers," these largely forgotten citizen-scientists helped professional astronomers by providing critical and otherwise unavailable information about the first satellites.

In Keep Watching the Skies!, I tell the story of this network of pioneers who, fueled by civic pride and exhilarated by space exploration, took part in the twentieth century's biggest scientific endeavor.

Around the world, thousands of teenagers, homemakers, teachers, amateur astronomers, and other citizens joined Moonwatch teams. Despite their diverse backgrounds and nationalities, they shared a remarkable faith in the transformative power of science--a faith inspired by the Cold War culture in which they lived.

Against the backdrop of the space race and technological advancement, ordinary people developed an unprecedented desire to contribute to scientific knowledge and to investigate their place within the cosmos.

Using homemade telescopes and other gadgets, Moonwatchers witnessed firsthand the astonishing beginning of the Space Age. In the process, these amateur scientists organized themselves into a worldwide network of satellite spotters that still exists today.

Drawing on previously unexamined letters, photos, scrapbooks, and interviews, Keep Watching the Skies! recreates a pivotal event from a perspective never before examined--that of ordinary people who leaped at a chance to take part in the excitement of space exploration.

Read the Introduction: HTML or PDF


"At a time when very little was known about the ionosphere and upper atmosphere, armchair astronomers of all backgrounds turned out in the thousands to aid the scientific pursuit of knowledge; when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, it was the Moonwatchers who provided the first observations to astronomers. McCray's history is full of fascinating individuals. This pop science takes a fascinating look at a fundamental, and almost-forgotten, moment in Space Age history."--Publishers Weekly

"Patrick McCray reconstructs an era when the world was taking its baby steps into the space age. He views it through the eyes of amateur star-gazers who experienced the excitement of those Sputnik days by joining Moonwatch, a worldwide effort to track satellites. McCray went beyond the official documents, ferreting out records from several of the most effective team leaders, and spotlights these throughout his well-illustrated presentation. McCray's account is an important contribution towards preserving the history of a fascinating episode at the dawn of the space age. [A] genuine page-turner."--Owen Gingerich, Nature (read the full review)

"Keep Watching the Skies! is the story of the worldwide effort...by amateur astronomers...to monitor the artificial moon Sputnik 1 launched by the Soviet space programme. This book is a superb history."--Colin Pillinger, Times Higher Education

"Patrick McCray's book tells the story of [the] devoted 'Moonwatchers' as they embarked upon Operation Moonwatch, to carefully study early satellite activity. McCray's text is meticulous, well written and follows the stories of the fabled Moonwatchers. If you want to explore the fascinating task that this diverse worldwide ensemble of amateurs and professionals undertook, this book would be an excellent place to start."--Will Gater, BBC Focus Magazine

"Eagerly peering into the predawn skies of October 1957, amateur scientists kept watch for a glimpse of a faint dot in the sky: Sputnik! Patrick McCray tells us who these people were and how their observations helped Operation Moonwatch become a rousing success for Fred Whipple and the scientists of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Keep Watching the Skies! highlights this unique alliance of amateur and professional scientists at the dawn of the Space Age. If you are among those who remember the thrill of the first satellites--even more so if you are not--you need to read this book."--Robert P. Kirshner, The Extravagant Universe

What Some Readers Have Said

Were you a Moonwatcher?

I'm always interested to hear from people who were members of Operation Moonwatch or who have something to share about amateur science.

Please take a moment to leave a comment and share a bit of your experience by clicking on the title above. Thanks!