Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Happy Birthday . . .

50 YEARS AGO, the world changed, and nobody thinks about it anymore. WIRED has a fine little appreciation of the event: "Telstar 1: The Little Satellite That Created the Modern World 50 Years Ago"

Telstar 1 was built as an international collaboration between AT&T, Bell Labs, NASA, the British General Post Office, and the French National Post, Telegraph, and Telecom Office. The satellite launched on a Delta rocket on July 10, 1962.

The aluminum satellite was wimpy by modern standards. It used 14 watts of power – roughly one-seventh that of a modern laptop – generated by the 3,600 solar panels on its outer hull. As well, it could only carry 600 phone calls and one black-and-white TV channel, though not much more was really needed at the time.

The moment brought television journalism into the modern age. Before this, video reels had to travel across the ocean by airplane. Often, events shown in TV news were several days late – ancient history compared to newspapers and radio.

But from this 20 minute session-limit beginning, as satellite building chops improved, we got the first geosynchronous communications satellite, Syncom 3, two years later, in 1964. 

Satellite-building is difficult, and it takes time to get it right, but it is a tribute to the quality of engineering that in spite of solar flares, 99% of the time, satellite communications work so well they're invisible. 

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