Most people know about the first man-made satellite ever successfully put into orbit, Sputnik 1. But there are other important “firsts” of unmanned spaceflight that we take for granted today. The first solar powered satellite, the first weather satellite, and the first communications satellite. The Soviets had the lead on us in the early space race, but all of these firsts were actually ours. America was the first nation to utilize space for commercial purposes, and it is those applications which filtered down into everyday lives to such an extent that we simply take it all for granted now.
The first television image of the earth from space, the first live transatlantic television broadcast, the first weather forecasts based on satellite data, these were all first made possible by three pioneering satellites which all happen to be going overhead tonight from my location. Vanguard 1, TIROS-1 and Telstar 1. Vanguard 1 was the first solar powered satellite ever launched into orbit, TIROS-1 was the world’s first weather satellite, and Telstar 1 was the first active communications relay satellite, which relayed the first transatlantic live broadcast. AT&T, Bell Telephone Laboratories, and RCA were all involved in the construction and operation of these latter two satellites. Tonight I’ll be webcasting it on youtube and people all around the world can watch it live all because of what Telstar 1 and its cousins began nearly 52 years ago.
For tonight though I’m just going to be focusing on actually tracking each of these three satellites in orbit as they fly overhead (weather permitting). Although none of these satellites are operational at this point, they make up some of the oldest satellites still in orbit (Vanguard 1 is the oldest satellite in orbit; Sputnik 1, 2 and Explorer 1 have all burned up in the atmosphere).
Later I’ll also be releasing some high resolution scans from my personal space memorabilia collection of rare original NASA photographs including some of these satellites and their launches, some of which have never before been available online.