50th anniversary of satellite Telstar celebrated
A technician prepares to wire together the components of Telstar in July 1962.
July 13th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

50th anniversary of satellite Telstar celebrated

Cell phones, Internet, satellite television - they’re all technologies our society takes for granted. But about half a century ago, those types of communications were pure science fiction. Telstar, the world’s first global communications satellite, set us on a path to change that, and on Thursday the National Air and Space Museum marked the 50th anniversary of Telstar’s first television transmission.

Telstar’s July 1962 launch marked the birth of telecommunications, sending the first global transmission of a television signal. That first picture came from Andover Earth Station, Maine, to the Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center, Brittany, France. The satellite also handled telephone and fax signals.

Some of the first public video from the satellite included remarks from then-President John F. Kennedy, and a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs.

Thursday’s event at the Air and Space Museum linked speakers at the Museum through satellite in Washington to other symposium participants at that same telecom facility in Brittany used 50 years ago.

At the symposium, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough told listeners in Washington and across the Atlantic just how important the launching of Telstar was to our lives today.

“The launching of Telstar was a turning point in the history of global communications. It was a turning point in the history of the globe,” Clough said. “We all know the power of the live image to change our image of the individual, group or a country. We know global communications can create global community, if even for a brief time, and unite us in joy, tragedy and triumph.”

The satellite’s launch even inspired an instrumental song by an instrumental group known as The Tornados. ‘Telstar’ was the first single by a British band to reach number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and was also a number one song in the UK.

The launch coincided with the height of the Cold War and at a time when the Soviet Union was beating the United States at every turn of the Space Race. Just a year before, the Soviets launched the first human into orbit, and while the United States followed up with a human flight of its own less than a year later, it wasn’t until the launch of Telstar that the United States beat the Soviets in a space category.

“It was a sense of relief,” said Paul Ceruzzi, chairman of the National Air and Space Museum's Space History Division. “Americans were depressed about news from Russia. The implication was, ‘If Russia could put these things into space, then maybe they could shoot missiles at us.’ This is something we won.”

It was an American victory in a game in which the Soviets could never catch back up, as U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon in July 1969.

The satellite handled over 400 telephone, telegraph, facsimile and television transmissions in its short lifespan. Telstar is still orbiting Earth today but stopped functioning in November 1962, when the satellite failed due to the effects of radiation.

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Fredric Weglage

    Satellite tv is great because you can watch movies and series anywhere you go. ..

    <a href="Newest piece of writing produced by our own online site

    November 21, 2012 at 4:51 am |
  2. SilentBoy741

    That thing is hanging off the rear-view mirror of a Venusian lowrider. They're just telling you that it's still up there because the government wants to cover it up.

    July 16, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  3. Marti

    I have that 45 record! It was from a stack that my brother's friend left at our house in the 60's. I tried to give them back at his wake a few years back but his brother told me he had enough clutter in his house and to keep and enjoy them. I never knew the story behind the record. I always thought it was the instrumental to a song from Gypsy that was very similar. What a dork I am!

    July 16, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  4. Linda Luttrell

    Voyager I and II are the anniversaries we should be celebrating! They gave us the first detailed photos of space past our then telescope range. It's amazing that they are still sending very weak signals from deep space. Realy outlasted their expectations.

    July 16, 2012 at 1:57 am |
  5. Someone in Columbus

    Gee – no mention of the Echo satillite – which was launched before and after Telstar – yeah, it was a passive system, but it did the job.

    July 15, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  6. $tillRun!n1@Ya.Com

    "Enemy UAV is on line"

    July 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  7. Dino

    50 year old space junk? It makes you wonder what else is up there waiting to fall onto our rooftops.

    July 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  8. Woody

    "Telstar is still orbiting Earth today but stopped functioning in November 1962, when the satellite failed due to the effects of radiation."

    It probably got very depressed and committed suicide after broadcasting the Phillies playing the Cubs.

    July 15, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  9. Cass

    I remember being almost 10 years old and my dad waking me up one (school) night, and going outside to see Telstar. He tried to explain what a satelite was, but I was too sleepy to get what he was so excited about. My dad remembered the Wright Brothers first flight (which was way underreported because most reporters believed it was a hoax.) He lived to sit in his living room and watch a man walk on the moon. What a leap for one lifetime.

    July 15, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • Marti

      Your dad was a piece of living history. That's very cool.

      July 16, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  10. Andy

    http://www.n2yo.com/?s=340 Track Telstar 1 in real time.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  11. rjay

    I worked at Goonhilly, Cornwall in 1961/2. I don't think that even the senior engineers envisaged just how momentous this first satellite communication was and where it would lead.

    July 14, 2012 at 5:11 am |
    • Doc

      ...or what a precious short time it would actually function to have become so singularly iconic – rock & roll song to boot!

      July 14, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Chet Burdick

      I worked as a technician at the Andover, Maine earth station for 3 1/2 years. It was one of the highlights of my 35 year career with AT&T. I was only 21 years old when I started working in Andover. The weekend of August 4, 2012, several of us are meeting in Andover, ME to celebrate the Telstar launch . I give my thanks to CNN for covering this historic event.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  12. Plugnickle

    They should bring it back down to earth and sell it on eBay. So-o-o much Space junk up there its a big garbage dump.

    July 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  13. xfiler93

    amazing that thing is still in orbit after all these years.

    July 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  14. Michael

    Umm. Cell phones don't use Satellites. Hence the word Cell for cellular. A bunch of small cells with antenna towers.
    The Satellite phones TV reporters use on location in the middle of the desert are satellite phones, but they have that annoying 2 second delay that makes it really hard to hold a conversation.
    Also, most internet is not on Satellite either. It uses land lines, fiber across the ocean.
    Yes, satellite dish TV uses Satellite. And, it is used for bouncing signals around the globe for other communications and broadcast tv.
    Also, GPS system uses satellites.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • me

      Where do you think your signal goes after it hits the cell tower? If you are calling some one on the other side of the country it goes up to a satellite.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
      • Cable Shipman

        Not necessarily. Many years ago that was true, but for over a decade most of the intercontinental transmissions now are made through undersea fiber optic cable.

        July 14, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • David

      Well pointed out. Nor did Telstar "mark the birth of telecommunications." It continued the era of telecommunication, whose pioneers are Bell, Marconi, and so on.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Oscar Pitchfork

      You're all wrong! When AT&T's system send it to a location, it typically sends it over what facility is available. It might be fiber, microwave relay dish or satellite. I know, I work there in their Transport division.

      July 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  15. Doc

    Virgin Galactic should mount a space flight to find and secure Telstar for museum exhibition back here on Earth. It would be a momentous contribution.

    July 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm |


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