National Geographic : 1962 May
forerunner of commercial communications satellites designed to relay telephone mes sages across the world from a point thousands of miles in space. Of all the space objects launched so far, these satellites are the first that millions of people will actually use. Automatic Phones Take to Space Telstar - named for telecommunications and star-represents the electronic ingenuity of Bell Laboratories at Murray Hill, New Jersey, the research and development arm of American Telephone and Telegraph Com pany. Thus, from the birthplace of such mir acles as the transistor, solar cells, and network television, comes another revolutionary de vice in the science of communications-a telephone relay station in space.* And Telstar will have company in the sky. The National Aeronautics and Space Admin istration has contracted with the Radio Cor poration of America to build a communica tions satellite called Relay, almost ready for launching, and with Hughes Aircraft Com pany for another known as Syncom. General Electric Company and Bendix Corporation are producing still another, named Advent, for the Department of Defense. But several things distinguish Telstar from *For a history of telephone communications -from conception to the age of space-see the following arti cles in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: "Prehistoric Telephone Days," March, 1922, by Alexander Graham Bell, the only biographical article ever written by the inventor of the telephone; "The Miracle of Talking by Telephone," Oc tober, 1937, and "Miracle Men of the Telephone," March, 1947, both by F. Barrows Colton; and "New Miracles of the Telephone Age," July, 1954, by Robert L. Conly. Assemblymen in Immaculately Clean Gowns Build Telstar Dust-free to Assure a Long Life To be economically feasible, communications satellites must survive space hazards for 10 to 15 years; the experimental Telstar must live at least a year to meet design goals. Even a smudgy thumbprint on a vital part could cause contamination that would shorten life. These men scrubbed hands, dried them on lint-free towels, and vacuum-cleaned shoes before entering the "white room" at Hillside. Intent worker at left checks part of the command receiver that reg isters instructions radioed from the ground; two others test the code generator that sends commands to the satellite. At right, a panel plated with bluish cells for tapping solar energy goes onto Telstar. Three times as hot as the sun's surface, a flame of ionized gas bursts from a plasma jet-spray gun with the roar of a jet plane's exhaust. The intense heat melts aluminum-oxide particles and shoots them into a stream, or plasma, that sprays an outside panel of Telstar. The tough coating that results is only a tenth as thick as a human hair. Operator wears welder's hood, aluminized jacket, and earplugs 640 for protection against glare, heat, and din.