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Artificial satellites, Astronautics, History

GavaghanCommunications | Source material

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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memories. It took about three years to track down participants and locate archives, company records, and small pockets of papers kept by people when they retired. I had to find out what was classified and what wasn't, what people thought was classified even when it wasn't, and what in general terms terms, might be in the genuinely classified material.

Not surprisingly, my original proposal was of absolutely no use. Its main fault was that it was about civilian application satellites. But navigation satellites were developed for a purely military purpose. The early history of weather satellites is inextricably intertwined with that of reconnaissance. And the decision that led to Syncom, the precursor of Early Bird, the world's first commercial communications satellite, owed much to the military's urgent need for improved global communication.

So the word civilian was the first thing to be excised from my conception of the book. It was followed by a ruthless culling of the 1990s, the 1980s and the 1970s, most of the 1960s, and satellites developed outside the United States. Finally, all but a few of the early American satellites fell by the wayside. Launch vehicles, electronics, and computers survived by the skin of their teeth, and only in so far as they demonstrated the limitations and difficulties surrounding those designing the early satellites.

What is left gives a flavor of yesterday's technology, which is our own technology in embryo, and a technology that has shaped our world. The book excludes many people, which is a shame but inevitable if it is to be readable.

The title, Something New Under the Sun, is a play on the biblical saying that there is no new thing under the sun. It was coined by Bob Dellar, an amateur astronomer who led a group of "Moon watchers" in Virginia in 1956. The task of the Moonwatchers, who were scattered all over the world, was to track the satellites that the United States and the Soviet Union were planning to launch during the International Geophysicical Year of 1957/58. Mr. Dellar is now dead, but Roger Harvey, who was sixteen at the time, was one of Mr. Dellar's group, and he mentioned the phrase in parking lot in northern Virginia while we inspected the telescope he had used to search for Sputnik. I asked if I could purloin the phrase as the title of my book, and he said yes.

It is an apt title, because satellites were, literally and figuratively, something new under the sun. The pioneers who designed the first satellites admit cheerfully that they hadn't a clue what they were doing or what they were up against. Their launch vehicles blew up, their electronics were unreliable, guidance and control were primitive, the world was just turning


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

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