Happy 50th birthday, transatlantic TV | News | DW | 12.07.2012
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Happy 50th birthday, transatlantic TV

Fifty years ago, a satellite the size of a beach ball, called Telstar, carried the first ever television images across the Atlantic Ocean. A part of the space race, it paved the way for the modern "global village."

The Telstar 1 satellite carried the first television images across the Atlantic Ocean on July 12, 1962, kick-starting the global information era decades before the advent of the Internet.

The joint project between the US and France broadcast images between Andover Earth Station in Maine and the Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center in Brittany.

Photo of the first live transoceanic television picture transmitted by the Telstar I satellite and received via Andover Maine's antenna July 11, 1962.

Information had never moved across continents in real time prior to Telstar

The first broadcast, which came two days after the July 10 launch, showed images of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. They were the first ever images transmitted across continents in real time. The French embassy in the US described July 12, 1962 as "The day information went Global" on a special website, telstar50.org, honoring the satellite's birthday.

A peaceful part of the Space Race

Telstar 1 carried part of a press conference by President John F. Kennedy later in July, where he called the satellite "yet another indication of the extraordinary world in which we live."

"This satellite must be high enough to carry messages from both sides of the world, which is, of course, an essential requirement for peace," Kennedy said. The satellite was only able to transmit brief excerpts of footage, but it famously carried images of French singer Yves Montand back to the US singing "La chansonette."

July 1962: Technicians join the Telstar satellite to the third stage of the Delta Rocket so it can be launched from Cape Canaveral and begin transmitting television pictures all over the world.

The small spherical satellite was disabled by high-altitude nuclear tests

Telstar's low-Earth orbit meant that its operating window was very small. The satellite had a less than 30-minute timespan each day when it was correctly positioned to share information between the receivers in the US and France. Modern-day telecommunication satellites are in geostationary orbit 35,786 km (22,236 mi) above the earth; at this height the satellite's speed matches the earth's rotation, meaning it appears to remain in a fixed point overhead.

The trailblazing satellite was operational for less than six months, destroyed by a darker side of the "Space Race" between the US and the former Soviet Union. Radiation from high-altitude US and Soviet nuclear testing broke Telstar 1, which remains in orbit to this day. The satellite conveyed some 400 telephone, telegraph, facsimile and television transmissions before it was disabled, according to the US Space Objects Registry.

Telstar was built by Bell Telephone Laboratories for use by AT&T, making it the first privately sponsored space mission.

msh/slk (AFP, AP, dpa)