The First Television and Telephone Satellite Launched 50 Years Ago

On July 10th, 1962, NASA launched the first Telstar satellite. The spherical satellite—which actually looks like a model of the Death Star—was the first to relay television and telephone signals through space.

In fact, just two days after launch on July 12, 1962, the satellite transmitted a television signal across the Atlantic Ocean from Andover Earth Station in Maine to the Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center in Brittany, France. According to the excellent history at Telstar50.org, the first images from the United States were of President John F. Kennedy and the first beamed over from France were of singer Yves Montand, along with clips of sporting events. Telstar 1 was also responsible for the first telephone calls—some 400 of them—sent through space.

Telstar 1 only entered an eccentric, low-earth orbit, and it was never useful for satellite television or telephone communication as we know it today. Each orbit lasted just 2.5 hours and the satellite could relay transatlantic signals for barely twenty of those minutes. Telstar lived a short life too: It operated for about a year and a half. Its onboard electronics failed in November 1962, but that short mission was enough to change the world for ever.

These days satellite communication is something we take for granted; Anyone can beam an image from their phone across the globe in seconds. A tiny dish fixed to the roof of your house can pull in thousands of channels of television. None of that would have been possible without the Telstar 1. [Telstar50.org via Dvice]

Images via Telstar50.org