World a Smaller Place Following 25 Years of Satellite Usage

By Peter Coy, Ap | THE JOURNAL RECORD, July 8, 1987 | Go to article overview

World a Smaller Place Following 25 Years of Satellite Usage


Peter Coy, Ap, THE JOURNAL RECORD


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 $3,000.

``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 homes.

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 them:

- 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 rates.

Telstar I itself was a short-lived phenomenon, succumbing to radiation just seven months after its launch. …

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