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Artificial satellites, Astronautics, History

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SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN, Satellites and the Beginning of the Space Age
Copyright for the book, including research notes, Copernicus/Springer Verlag (New York)

History of artificial satellites
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When the story of our age comes to be told, we will be remembered as the first of all men to set their sign among the stars.
Arthur C. Clarke. The Making of a Moon, 1957

A new age was dawning, in which the organized brain power for military and civilian science and technology was the dearest national asset.
Walter McDougall ...the Heavens and the Earth: a political history of the space age, 1985.

When the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation decided to sponsor a series of histories of technology in the 1990s, they asked for proposals about technologies that have had a significant impact on the twentieth century. For some years, I had written news and features about space and had been hooked by the glamour of space exploration. Which aspect of the field would, I wondered, best fit into the Sloan's proposed series?

It seemed to me that the answer was navigation, weather, and communications satellites - that is, so-called application satellites. The National Academy of Engineering has said that of all the technological achievements of the second half of the twentieth century, these satellites are second only to the Apollo moon landing. Application satellites have a stealthy, silent influence on our lives. Most of us would notice them only in their absence. But then we would notice. There would be no early warning of hurricanes, no satellite data for the computer models that predict weather. There would be no instantaneous communication to and from any part of the globe, no satellite TV, and no navigation in bad weather. It would be a more dangerous and expensive world.

So I submitted a proposal. I wrote blithely of a history of every kind of civilian application satellite, from every country, from before the launch of Sputnik up to the 1990s. My book was also to encompass the critical supporting technologies of launch vehicles, electronics, and computers. Somehow, I won the grant.

After a few months of research, I discovered that I had known little about the subject and that it was full of apocryphal tales from imperfect


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Page text content checked against original in print by HG on 1st May, 2013.

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