Whatever happened to... Telstar

Share
Related Topics
The Yves of a New Dawn

Thirty five years ago this month, a picture of the chairman of the American Telegraph and Telephone Company in Maine was bounced off the new telecommunications satellite Telstar, more than 7,000 miles above the Earth's surface, and picked up, way over the horizon, in Europe. France sent back footage of a live concert of Yves Montand singing to America, while Britain sent over a test card signal and a greeting from a civil servant. Telstar had been launched into space from the eastern seaboard in early June, and by the end of the month 100 million viewers in 16 countries were watching US TV programmes live.

A Bomb Named Starfish

Nasa's newest satellites now measure around 47 ft wide and have solar cells that produce 1.5 Kilowatts, but Telstar was tiny. A sphere, just 34 inches across and weighing 171 pounds, it revolved at 200 rpm and produced under 15 watts. The day before Telstar was launched, the US had conducted a nuclear test in space, code-named Starfish. Telstar's orbit took it regularly through the belt of radiation that this caused, and within six months, the satellite was rendered useless. JFK's administration had already sent up replacements, and so Telstar, hit by the odd meteorite and stray piece of debris, was left slowly to disintegrate in its eternal orbit.

Space Jam

Telstar is now just one of more than 70,000 large pieces of junk careering around Earth. There are also at least half a million objects the size of an orange or smaller - dropped screwdrivers and bags of excreta. Last August, a French military satellite hit a large chunk of a 10-year-old Ariane rocket, causing the satellite to lose its sense of direction. Spacewalking is now kept to an absolute minimum to avoid astronauts needlessly having holes drilled through them - the tiniest metal fragment can fly, frictionless, at thousands of miles per hour.

Eight Billion Dollar Bill

Bill Gates' plans for a $8bn network of Internet satellites were approved a few weeks ago. Telstar's grandchildren, a network of 324 new satellites, should mean that computers, especially in places too isolated or poor to afford miles of fibre-optic cables - will be able to communicate about 60 times faster. Telstar was a huge success; without it we wouldn't now have instant world-wide 24 hour news or, indeed, topless darts. The little sphere has made the globe seem smaller.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
George Osborne likes to think of himself as the greatest political mind of his generation  

Budget 2015: It takes a lot of hard work to be as lucky as George Osborne

John Rentoul
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test