Ghana’s official satellite observer and first man outside Russia to spot Sputnik passes away at Techny

Father John Koster, 1913-2005

Koster,_Fr_John_for_webFather John Koster, 87, died at Divine Word Residence, in Techny, Ill., on June 21, 2005.

Born in Dunkerton, Iowa, in 1918, John Koster entered the Society in 1932 at Epworth, Iowa. He professed first vows in 1939 and was ordained at Techny in 1944.

Following ordination, he completed a master’s degree in physics at DePaul University and went on to earn a doctorate in physics from the University of London. In 1950, he was assigned to Ghana, West Africa, where he became a chaplain and lecturer in physics at the University of Ghana.

Through radio astronomy, he tracked both Russian and U.S. satellites, and is credited with being the first scientist outside the Soviet Union to detect Sputnik, the first Earth satellite launched in 1957.

Because of his success in tracking both Russian and U.S. satellites, he was appointed Ghana’s official satellite observer. He also was among the first to prove that the Earth’s upper atmosphere was most ionized over the equator and not the poles. He continued teaching in Ghana for 28 years, then transferred to the Society’s Fu Jen University in Taipei, Taiwan, where he taught computer science and atmospheric physics while doing research until 1993. He retired at Techny in 1997.

In addition to his work as a scientist, Father Koster worked as a missionary among his students in Ghana and among students and migrant workers in Taipei. When Father Koster retired, one former student in Ghana said, "How can we forget this ‘stranger’ so humorous, gentle and solicitous yet so firm and forward looking?" In 2004, Father Koster celebrated 65 years in religious vows and 60 years as a priest.

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