EAST MONTPELIER, Vt. - A mile from the nearest paved
road, James Murphy sits in his mobile home and steers a 10-foot-wide
satellite dish that stands out by a stone wall.
Up pops Ronald Reagan, translated into Spanish. Boston Bruins
trivia. Shop-at-home socket wrenches for $19.95. News in Italian.
The First Baptist Church choir of Del City.
Satellites have been beaming a crazy-quilt world into the snug
Vermont living room of Murphy and his wife Alice for nearly three
months, ever since they bought their dish in April for a little over
``The kids were after me,'' said Murphy, a 76-year-old retired
crane and shovel operator. ``They said, `Why don't you get a dish so
you can enjoy yourself?' And we really have.''
The world has become a smaller place for Murphy and everybody
else in the quarter century since communication satellites began
circling the Earth as the relay towers of the Space Age.
Before satellites, continents were linked only by clumps of
copper cables. Film footage had to be sent across oceans by plane.
Long-distance phone calls were considered special occasions in most
July 10 marks the 25th anniversary of an event that changed all
that - the 1962 launch of Telstar I. The experimental ``bird'' was
the first to receive, amplify and simultaneously retransmit
telephone and television signals and thus was a forerunner of the
modern communication satellite.
Telstar's first transmission, a phone call to Vice President
Lyndon B. Johnson, ``ranked with such historic accomplishments as
the first transmission of a telegraph message by Samuel F.B. Morse
in 1844,'' bragged its owner, Bell Telephone Laboratories.
Today, communication satellites are fixtures in the firmament.
Link Resources Corp., a market researcher, predicts satellite
services in the United States alone will generate $3.75 billion in
revenues by 1991, growing at about 15 percent a year.
Satellite owners are reaching out to new customers. Coca-Cola
Co., for example, used satellites to beam a two-hour presentation to
15,000 bottlers in Australia, Africa, Japan, Brazil and Great
Britain. Johnson & Johnson used video conferences to get
information out quickly during its Tylenol scare.
The latest innovations include tiny dishes that news
organizations can assemble like petals of a flower to broadcast live
from remote war zones and disaster areas.
On the other hand, satellites hover above a dangerous landscape,
filled with competitive threats and political squabbles. Among
- Competing technologies, such as optical fibers that cheaply
transmit pulses of laser light, are bringing some voice and data
traffic back to Earth.
- Several rockets have blown up or gone astray with $100
million satellites aboard, bringing most launches to a temporary
standstill and driving insurance rates into the stratosphere. More
than two dozen satellites had been on the waiting list for the space
shuttle before the explosion of the Challenger in 1986.
- Hackers like the infamous ``Captain Midnight,'' who
interrupted Home Box Office Inc. last year, have displayed the
vulnerability of satellites to sabotage.
- The French, Soviets and even Chinese are trying to muscle in
on the satellite launching business with government subsidies.
Japan, too, is reaching into space. Next February, Mitsubishi is
scheduled to put up the first communications satellite designed,
built and launched entirely by Japan.
- Third World nations that depend heavily on satellites are
opposing efforts by the United States to allow the launching of
private international communication satellites, which they fear
would skim off profitable traffic and force up their transmission
Telstar I itself was a short-lived phenomenon, succumbing to
radiation just seven months after its launch. …