Fifty years ago day before yesterday, the only way to get a TV picture from one side of the ocean to the other -- barring freak occurrences with the ionosphere -- was to put a videotape on a fast jet plane.
Fifty years ago yesterday, that changed when Telstar 1 relayed its first television signal from Maine to France, an act so revolutionary that the little satellite was memorialized with a Top-40 hit record.
And 50 years ago today came the first official transatlantic satellite broadcast.The Los Angeles Times remembers:
"With Telstar and its successors, the world was made a smaller place, as billions of people around the world had instant access to news, sports and entertainment," said Jeong Kim, president of Bell Labs, which designed and manufactured Telstar. "The phrase 'live via satellite' became part of the common vernacular."
Researchers had been working for nearly a decade trying to develop some technique for space-based communications. One outgrowth of those attempts was the Echo series of satellites -- large, metal-coated balloons that served as passive reflectors for electronic signals. The balloons were used for transmitting microwave signals and as marker beacons in the sky that helped improve navigation for intercontinental ballistic missiles. But they were not large enough to handle the information required for a television signal.
Telstar could. The 72-sided satellite was about 34 inches in diameter. Solar panels on each of the faces powered 19 rechargeable batteries not unlike those used in flashlights. The amplifier could boost a signal 10 billion times before relaying it to Earth. The satellite was originally designed to handle two black-and-white television channels and 600 simultaneous telephone calls, but weight restrictions on the Delta launch vehicle made it necessary to lose one of the television boosters.
The satellite was launched two days earlier, on July 10, and some preliminary tests were conducted before the first official transmission on the 12th.
HERE'S A COUPLE of fascinating looks at yet another of the 1960s age of miracles,- the launch of Telstar 1. The first, above, is a Bell System documentary about the little satellite that could -- and did -- which was its baby.
THE SECOND is from the other side of the Atlantic -- a British look at Telstar 1, as part of a fascinating look at the history of what the English television types call "outside broadcasts."
Get your geek on and enjoy.