Fifty years ago today, July 12, 1962, the first live television signal was transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean via the diminutive Telstar 1 satellite. Launched from Cape Canaveral just two days prior, Telstar 1 heralded a new age in global communication. Measuring a mere 34.5 inches and weighing in at 170 pounds, it’s size was limited by what would fit into one of NASA’s Delta rockets.
The viewers able to watch the images were treated to twenty minutes of the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower photos, words from John F. Kennedy, and shots of a Phillies versus Cubs baseball game. Telstar circled the globe in 2.5 hour non-geosynchronous orbits, affording twenty minute windows for broadcasting between Andover, Maine, Goonhilly Downs in southwest England, and Pleumeur-Bodou in northwestern France as it passed over the Atlantic.
Telstar 1 relayed many broadcasts, telephone calls, and photos over it’s short four month life. Prior to the launch, the Cold War efforts of both the US and USSR performed high-altitude nuclear tests which left residual radiation in the orbiting Telstar 1 wake. That, combined with cosmic radiation from the sun, destroyed the delicate transistor circuitry in the history making satellite.
But Telstar 1 had made it’s mark. Several more Telstars were launched in the following months which led to the instant global communications we enjoy today.
Happy 50th Anniversary Telstar 1!