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This Is What Broadband Satellite Communication Looked Like in 1965

Intelsat 1, the first commercial telecom satellite, could relay 240 phone calls at once

1 min read
Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images

The Intelsat 1 “Early Bird” communications satellite, built by Hughes Aircraft Co., was able to relay 240 simultaneous phone conversations between Europe and North America. But having all 240 lines apparently originate in one room in Los Angeles, as this Hughes publicity shot seems to suggest, would undoubtedly have created a slight bottleneck.

Intelsat 1 was the world’s first commercial communications satellite. Launched in 1965, it was placed into geosynchronous orbit above the Atlantic Ocean, where it remained operational for four years. In addition to carrying 240 voice transmissions, the satellite could relay telegrams, television signals, and whatever the 1965 equivalent of “high-speed data” was; however, it could do only one of those things at a time. Intelsat 1 was briefly reactivated in 1990 to celebrate its 25th anniversary. It’s still orbiting, inactive, presumably waiting for its 125th.

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The Unsung Inventor Who Chased the LED Rainbow

LEDs came only in shades of red—until George Craford expanded the palette

10 min read
Man  with grey hair wearing dress shirt and tie standing in front of an LED stoplight and holding a panel with yellow and red LEDs glowing

Walk through half a football field’s worth of low partitions, filing cabinets, and desks. Note the curved mirrors hanging from the ceiling, the better to view the maze of engineers, technicians, and support staff of the development laboratory. Shrug when you spot the plastic taped over a few of the mirrors to obstruct that view.

Go to the heart of this labyrinth and there find M. George Craford, R&D manager for the optoelectronics division of Hewlett-Packard Co., San Jose, Calif. Sitting in his shirtsleeves at an industrial beige metal desk piled with papers, amid dented bookcases, gym bag in the corner, he does not look like anybody’s definition of a star engineer.

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