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When Engineers Had the Stars in Their Sights

This 1964 ad attests to the enduring lure of the final frontier

1 min read
Photo of vintage ad by Hughes Aircraft Co.
Photo: Randi Klett

At the height of the space race in the 1960s, Hughes Aircraft Co. was one of many companies that recruited engineers by boasting of its involvement with space projects—even when that involvement was peripheral or the company was looking to fill unrelated positions. But Hughes was the real deal: This ad, from IEEE Spectrum’s January 1964 issue, features Hughes’s Syncom, the world’s first geosynchronous communications satellite. Even after the space race wound down and the industry endured downturns and consolidation, Hughes continued to put hardware into orbit. Now part of Boeing, the descendant of Hughes’s aerospace divisions still builds satellites for a variety of commercial and government customers. Going forward, though, it will likely face growing competition from the likes of OneWeb, SpaceX, and O3b Networks, which all aim to send aloft entire constellations of communications satellites. As these startups reinvigorate the industry, landing a job in aerospace may once again be perceived as “cool.”

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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