The Day Television Went To Space

The Day Television Went To Space


One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Many of history’s most iconic moments have something in common. They were broadcast to the
world live by satellite. But this technical feat
that we take for granted was not even possible all that long ago. In fact, the entire era can be traced back to July 10th, 1962,
the day TV went global. And here it is, television. The exciting new medium of television had been in regular use since the 1940s. But there was a problem. Live TV could only be
transmitted by cables or by terrestrial repeaters. And both methods were impractical
over very long distances. In the first half of the 20th century, a radical idea had been
proposed in scientific circles. What if an object could
be put into outer space that would act like a giant mirror, bouncing signals from one
point on Earth to another? At the time, no manmade object
had actually been in space, but technically, it seemed possible. In the late 1950s, hundreds
of engineers and scientists at AT&T Bell Laboratories were put to work on an ambitious new project. The first active communication
satellite in space. The project was called Telstar. By today’s standards, the
design was rudimentary and consumed less power than
the average modern laptop. But at the time, it was cutting edge, featuring then-new technologies
such as solar cells, transistors, and a telemetry
system for collecting data. No less impressive was the
ground equipment needed to track, transmit, and receive signals
from the Telstar satellite. Massive yet exceptionally
precise satellite dishes were constructed on both
side of the Atlantic Ocean in order to capture and
amplify Telstar’s faint signal as it whizzed and bobbed
through its elliptical orbit. In the early morning of July 10th, 1962, Telstar One was launched
atop a Thor-Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral Air
Force Station in Florida, the same site from which
the Apollo 11 astronauts would depart for their trip to the moon almost exactly seven years later, a feat that would be broadcast
live to the entire world, thanks in part to Telstar’s
groundbreaking achievement. Armstrong is on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Around 15 hours after its launch, Telstar relayed the first live satellite video transmission in history, a congratulatory telephone call between U.S. Vice President Lyndon Johnson and the Chairman of AT&T,
which had funded the project. Good evening, Mister Vice President. How do you hear me? You’re coming through
nicely, Mister Cap-ul. Well, that’s wonderful, the first telephone message in the world over an active satellite. Two weeks late on July 23rd, a 20 minute multi-national
program was broadcast to hundreds of millions of viewers in
Europe and the Americas. Good afternoon. Soon we’ll be saying
good evening to Europe on the first exchange of live programs between the television
networks of the United States and their affiliated stations and the European Broadcast Union. The lineup included a brief glimpse of a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Let’s give all the baseball fans in Europe a big hello from Chicago. Remarks by U.S. President John F. Kennedy. I understand that part of
today’s press conference is being relayed by the
Telstar communication satellite and this is another indication of the extraordinary
world in which we live. And live scenes from landmarks around the U.S. and world. A new era had officially dawned. Putting another bit of history behind it, Telstar will now rest
for two and a half hours while its solar batteries build
up energy for another epic. Telstar was celebrated as a monumental achievement, became a sort of high-tech celebrity, praised
by politicians, journalists, and scientists, and referenced
widely in popular culture. That’s no moon, it’s a space station. Live by satellite soon
became a regular feature on network television, for
everything from breaking news. Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall. To sporting events. With the ever-present shadow
of the Cold War looming large, Telstar also marked a rare
early victory in the Space Race for the United States, which
by that point had been beaten by the Soviet Union with the
first satellite in space, the first animal in space,
and the first man in space. Unfortunately, the first
Telstar satellite was damaged by residual radiation from
a thermo-nuclear bomb test the day before its launch, which led to the satellite’s early
demise within a few months. Nevertheless, it demonstrated to the world that live communication by
a satellite was feasible, proving the concepts laid
out by early visionaries. Soon to follow were more advanced
communication satellites, such as the Hughes
Syncom, whose much higher geosynchronous orbit
allowed for true 24/7 global TV coverage far beyond Telstar’s
limited broadcast window due to its orbit path. Although Telstar’s
technology was soon eclipsed, the project also marked
another important first: the first privately
sponsored space mission carrying a commercial payload. At a cost to AT&T of about $25 million per launch in today’s money. Despite early concerns by policymakers about the potential domination
over space communications by private industry, the
success of the Telstar project and the urgency to compete
against the Soviet Union helped to usher in an age
of competitive cooperation between the U.S. government
and the private sector in developing space technology. That continues to today
with companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, One Way, and countless other start-ups. Thanks to the new commercial space race, satellites have once again become the center of attention. The cost to build and
launch new satellites continues to drop,
widening the playing field for eager entrepreneurs such
as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who are developing satellite networks to provide broadband internet to the estimated four billion people who lack reliable access. Other new satellite projects
are devoted to everything from tracking greenhouse gas emissions to urban traffic flows
to refugee movements. Thousands of satellites
are currently in orbit, with thousands more likely on
their way in the near future. SpaceX alone has filed for FCC permits for almost 12,000 new
satellite in coming years. Meanwhile, almost 60 years later, the long dormant Telstar
One is still floating around our planet, a celestial
artifact from a moment in history that launched the
world as we see it today.

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