Presented by Fisher Investments: RCP Poll; Perot-Bush; Telstar
Good morning, it’s Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Fifty-seven years ago today, a new era in human communications was launched, literally, from Cape Canaveral. A rocket sent heavenward on this date carried no astronauts, not even a chimpanzee. It’s payload? Telstar 1, the first commercial satellite.
Telstar was not the original such device to be built. That distinction belonged to Echo 1, a metal balloon launched by NASA in 1960. But Telstar was next-level stuff, and nothing in human communications was the same after it went into orbit. (It even inspired a space-age song.) I’ll have more on this in a moment. First, I’d steer you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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Repurposing Warships. In RealClearDefense, Robert Purssell offers alternatives to scrapping.
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Telstar 1 was developed for AT&T at a cost of $33 million, which would be close to $280 million today. The price tag included building ground stations in Maine, England, and France, as well as reimbursing NASA for the Thor-Delta rocket needed to launch the device.
Built at the Bell Telephone labs in Hillside, N.J., the satellite was slightly larger than a beach ball and weighed 170 pounds. This technological marvel was shown off with pride to National Geographic writer Rowe Findley by Bell Labs engineer Robert H. Shennum.
“Take a good look now,” Shennum told the writer. “Where it’s going you won’t get another chance.”
Telstar 1 was propelled into space at 2:35 a.m. on July 10, 1962. Two days later, relying on a relay from the Andover Earth Station (in Maine) to Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center in Brittany, it transmitted the first-ever television signal across the Atlantic Ocean. The initial images were of the American flag waving outside the Maine facility.
The maiden phone call facilitated by the thing was between AT&T board chairman Fred Kappel and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“How do you hear me?” Kappel asked LBJ.
“You are coming through nicely, Mr. Kappel,” replied the vice president.
On July 23, President John F. Kennedy kicked off a press conference by noting that the session was being relayed by Telstar to viewers in Europe, “another indication,” JFK said, “of the extraordinary world in which we live.”
Although he slightly garbled the pronunciation of Telstar, Kennedy was concentrating on the big picture. “This satellite must be high enough to carry messages from both sides of the world, which is, of course, a very essential requirement for peace,” he added. “I think this understanding, which will inevitably come from the speedier communications, is bound to increase the well-being and security of all people here and those across the oceans.”
Then, as now, however, advanced technology could be used for evil as well as good. Many human beings believed Telstar heralded the advent of a smaller, interconnected world in which mankind’s historic divides could be bridged. Others looked upon such inventions and imagined how they could provide an advantage in war. Still others didn’t give it much thought either way.
All those disparate reactions were on display on July 23, 1962. The reporters attending the presidential news conference ignored Kennedy’s preamble about Telstar and went instead to the news of the day: reports of a Soviet pact with East Germany that would codify the division of Berlin and ongoing Russian intransigence on limiting nuclear testing.
None of the journalists present knew it, but they were asking questions that related directly to Telstar. The day before the little satellite’s launch, the U.S. had detonated a high-altitude nuclear bomb. In October, the Soviet Union would follow suit. The increase in stratospheric radiation caused by these blasts overwhelmed Telstar’s fragile transistors. A brief workaround kept her running temporarily, but the satellite was compromised and went out of service on Feb. 21, 1963. By then, however, the world had already been changed.
As for the little satellite, she is still up there, blissfully unaware of her uselessness, orbiting the Earth once every 2 hours and 37 minutes, as she’s been doing for 57 years -- and is expected to do for another two centuries.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics