Telstar — 60th Anniversary of the Telecommunications Satellite Launched July 10, 1962

Posted on July 10, 2022 at 5:48 pm

From my father, Newton N. Minow, published today on Medium.

“Do you know anything about telecommunications satellites?” It was my first day at the Federal Communications Commission, where I had just been appointed Chairman by President John F. Kennedy. It was 1961 and I was 35 years old. The question came from one of the other Commissioners, T.A.M. Craven, originally a Franklin Roosevelt appointee, then re-named by Eisenhower. Craven had formerly been the Commission’s Chief Engineer.

I admitted I did not know anything about them. He groaned. “This is the one area where we are ahead of the space technology of the Russians,” he said. And he began to tell me that Bell Laboratories had developed a satellite that could be launched into space to bounce signals and open up endless new possibilities for broadcasts and telephones.
In 1961 we were just a few years from having to call the operator to place expensive long-distance calls. There were just two and a half national television commercial broadcast networks and many communities had no local station. Only a few cities had what would become nationwide public television. Today we take it for granted that we can watch world events from royal weddings to the Olympic games to the Oscars in real time, but that was a long way off in 1961. As Commissioner Craven explained to me what the satellite could do, it seemed like something out of Flash Gordon. And yet, we did not imagine a fraction of the changes that launch would bring.

The technology was there. But first, we needed a plan to take it to Congress. The Communications Satellite Act was complicated and controversial. It required coordination with American businesses and the government (we wanted to make sure that no one corporation would have control). Today it might be harder to imagine that we were able to get bi-partisan legislation passed within a year than it is to count up the monumental changes the satellite has brought, but it was one of three major pieces of legislation we got passed to make telecommunications more broadly accessible and expand the choices for viewers between 1961–63.

Courtesy JFK Library

I am the second from the right at the signing ceremony of the Communications Satellite Act in the Oval Office. See below for a full list of those in the photo.

When he signed the new law, President Kennedy said,

By enacting this legislation, Congress has taken a step of historic importance. It promises significant benefits to our own people and to the entire world. Its purpose is to establish a commercial communications system utilizing space satellites which will serve our needs and those of other countries and contribute to world peace and understanding.

The benefits which a satellite system should make possible within a few years will stem largely from a vastly increased capacity to exchange information cheaply and reliably with all parts of the world by telephone, telegraph, radio, and television. The ultimate result will be to encourage and facilitate world trade, education, entertainment, and many kinds of professional, political, and personal discourse which are essential to healthy human relationships and international understanding.

Better and less expensive communications, like better and less expensive transportation, are vital elements in the march of civilization. This legislation will, by advancing the peaceful and productive use of space, help to accelerate that march, and I extend appreciation to the Members of Congress who worked so hard to secure passage of a very effective piece of legislation.

The satellite was launched on July 10, 1962, 60 years ago today, the world’s first commercial payload of any kind in space. According to NASA, “Two days later, it relayed the world’s first transatlantic television signal, from Andover Earth Station, Maine, to the Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center, Brittany, France…. The first images, those of President John F. Kennedy and of singer Yves Montand from France, along with clips of sporting events, images of the American flag waving in the breeze and a still image of Mount Rushmore, were precursors of the global communications that today are mostly taken for granted.”

Last month, my family was in Europe, where they were able to use GPS to get around, send me photos by email and text, watch the January 6 hearing live on CNN, and call me for nominal cost, all made possible by telecommunications satellites that began with Telstar.

President Kennedy promised that America would put a man on the moon. I told him the telecommunication satellite was even more important because the satellite will launch ideas, and ideas last longer than people.

Copyright Nell Minow

Souvenir of the launch

In the Oval Office photo: President John F. Kennedy hands a pen to Representative Samuel N. Friedel of Maryland during a signing ceremony for HR 11040, the Communications Satellite Act of 1962. (L-R) Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois; Representative J. Arthur Younger of California (turned away from camera); Representative John B. Bennett of Michigan; Representative Friedel (front, glasses); Representative Oren Harris of Arkansas (mostly hidden behind hand); Senator Warren G. Magnuson of Washington; Speaker of the House of Representatives John W. McCormack; Senator Robert S. Kerr of Oklahoma; Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia; Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota; Senator John Sparkman of Alabama; Joseph A. Beirne, Vice President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); Representative William L. Springer of Illinois; unidentified (partially hidden behind Representative Springer); Senator John O. Pastore of Rhode Island; Newton Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); Executive Secretary of National Aeronautics and Space Council Edward C. Welsh. Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C

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Remembering JFK

Posted on January 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

Commemorate the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy with a look at these films:

JFK – A Presidency Revealed The History Channel’s balanced view is candid about the President’s shortcomings and mistakes but also captures his optimism and vigor and his ability to inspire.

Thirteen Days The gripping story of the Cuban Missile Crisis shows the young President at his best in responding to Soviet missiles placed in range to attack the United States.

John F Kennedy – Years of Lightning, Day of Drums This documentary focuses on “Six Faces of the New Frontier:” Six Faces of the New Frontier”, the Peace Corps (founded by the President’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, who died this week), the Alliance for Progress, Civil Rights, Space Exploration, Disarmament, the pursuit of peace, the Cuban crisis, the Berlin crisis, his journey to Costa Rica, his speech at the Berlin Wall and his visit to the Kennedy ancestral home in Ireland.

Pt 109 Cliff Robertson stars as Kennedy in this story of his experiences as skipper of a PT boat and his heroism in saving 10 of his men. (Only available on VHS.)

Famous Speeches & Interviews He was the first true television president and this collection of some of the highlights of his appearances on video and television includes his famous inaugural speech.

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For Your Netflix Queue Lists Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families

Movies to Celebrate the Life and Work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted on January 13, 2011 at 3:56 pm

This weekend we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King and every family should take time to talk about this great American leader and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. There are outstanding films for all ages.

Every family should watch the magnificent movie Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King, and should study the history of the Montgomery bus boycott that changed the world. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. It is important to note that he was not asking for complete desegregation; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. And this website has assembled teaching materials, including the modest reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging. Families should also read They Walked To Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Paul Winfield has the lead in King, a brilliant and meticulously researched NBC miniseries co-starring Cecily Tyson that covers King’s entire career.

The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, makes clear that the boycott was a reminder to black and white women of their rights and opportunities — and risk of change.

Citizen King is a PBS documentary with archival footage of Dr. King and his colleagues. Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream has his famous speech in full, still one of the most powerful moments in the history of oratory and one of the most meaningful moments in the history of freedom.

For children, Our Friend, Martin and Martin’s Big Words are a good introduction to Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

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Biography Documentary Epic/Historical For the Whole Family Lists

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

Posted on August 25, 2010 at 8:00 am

Gertrude Berg is described in this sympathetic and engaging documentary as an earlier version of Oprah. She wrote every word of over twelve thousand scripts. She played the lead role and oversaw every element of the programs on radio, in television, and in a feature film. She branched out to a line of clothing and a cookbook. She was the first “first lady of television” before Lucille Ball took the title. It is probably more due to Desi Arnaz’s three-camera system for making infinitely rerun-able tapes that has kept “I Love Lucy” in the forefront while shows of equal quality faded from the airwaves.

Aviva Kempner (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg) has assembled archival footage and contemporary interviews to illuminate the life of this pioneering writer/actress/producer. The film may go too far in giving Berg credit for creating the sit-com, but it makes a convincing case for her stature and influence, even more impressive in light of the era’s bigotry and the restrictions on professional advancement for both Jews and women.

For many people, “The Goldbergs” was their first exposure to a non-stereotyped Jewish family. Among the film’s most affecting interviews are the comments from viewers who speak of what the show meant to them, including the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who says that since her mother had no family, they thought of the Goldbergs as their relatives, and from non-Jewish women who talk about how the series’ portrayal of family felt very much like their own experiences and cultures.

The saddest part of the film is the portion about Philip Loeb, who played Berg’s husband on the series until his name came up during the era of the blacklist. Berg showed great courage and integrity in fighting to keep him on the show and he showed great honor in insisting that the show go on without him. The tragic outcome is conveyed with great sympathy and feeling.

Kempner has a real gift for making these almost-forgotten lives fascinating and vital. Perhaps most important, the film made me sorry that the very intriguing clips from Berg’s television series didn’t go on longer. I’d like to spend more time with the Goldbergs.

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Biography Documentary
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