Saturday, January 25, 2014

Telecommunications and my dad

Digging back into the old memoir, Rocket Lessons (forthcoming from who-knows-where, who-knows-when) to rehab some of the chapters as short essays to submit here and there, I discovered one about my father's biggest project, the launch of the world's first telecommunications satellite, Relay I. As it turned out, it was by five months the world's second telecommunications satellite, but as my father always liked to point out, "It's still up there and Telstar died in a matter of months." As I wrote, I researched and learned something thrilling: John F. Kennedy had made a speech about global peace being enabled by the promise of global communications. Talk about prescient.

Remember the days before you could telephone another continent? Yeah, neither do I, but that was a mere fifty years ago. Remember before the Internet? I do, and that was only forty years ago. There's a woman alive who remembers before you could realistically take a plane to Europe. Back when the oceans made us very separate from other places. It's hard to envision global anything without the ability to phone anywhere you want, or for the president to.

So thanks, Dad. We sat up all night waiting for you to make the first intercontinental, satellite-deflected phone call to us from the tracking station in Argentina. The fact that it never came to us, but awakened someone in England instead, due to a little bump in the satellite's orbit, doesn't matter as much as it did when I was twelve. Thanks to you, and all those other slide-rule wielding rocket engineers, I can write this and have it reach friends in India or Europe immediately. Who knows if that promotes peace, but it sure can't hurt.