AT&T Archives: Telstar!

The story of how the Bell System, in cooperation with NASA, developed the Telstar satellite, and participated in the launch and the subsequent successful transmission of signals to and from the earth and space. The film is from 1962.

Early scenes show the clearing of a site in Andover, Maine and the construction of Telstar there. Following this, the telephone scientists and engineers do research and test work on Telstar. The teamwork of business, industry and government is then shown at Cape Canaveral, where we see the final tests of the satellite, the seating of the rocket on the launch pad, mounting of the satellite on the final stage of the rocket and the launching of the satellite.

The film closes with scenes from Washington DC and Andover, including the first telephone call and faxed photo via satellite, and initial TV transmissions, including a live transmission of Yves Montand from France, greetings from the British, and a speech by JFK. By the end of June 1962, viewers in 16 countries could watch U.S. TV programs.

Telstar 1, the satellite profiled here, actually was quite tiny. It was only 34 inches across, and weighed 171 pounds. Its solar panels produced under 15 watts. Conversely, modern satellites average around 47 ft. wide and produce 1.5 kilowatts with their solar panels.

Telstar 1 had some problems in the next year after launch. Because the U.S. had conducted a nuclear test in space the day before Telstar was launched, Telstar was regularly exposed to more radiation than expected. Within six months of launch, the satellite worked no more and a restart only kept it functional until February 1963. Telstar is still up there in space as of 2011, though, surrounded by thousands of its dead satellite brethren.

Producer: Audio Productions, Inc.

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ