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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of
modern communications

National Academy of Engineering (NAE) member and adjunct professor of materials science and engineering Walter Brown, was part of the Bell Labs ceremony in July that marked the 50th anniversary of the Telstar I satellite. In 1962, it was his job to “examine how radiation in space affects solar cells and semiconductors,” and he got rather more than he bargained for. The day before launch, the U.S. had set off a nuclear explosion at an altitude of 400 kilometers just southwest of Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean. "The people who set off the nuclear explosion were totally surprised by the huge number of high energy electrons that were released," Brown says. The satellite unwittingly became an experiment to analyze the aftermath of a nuclear blast on electronic equipment. Initially, Telstar 1 couldn't be turned on, but the engineers figured a way to get it back into operation. For more, see “How the U.S. Accidentally Nuked Its Own Communications Satellite” in the July 11 issue of Scientific American.

U.S. Department of Energy

Telstar I Satellite