Anthony J. Pennings, PhD

WRITINGS ON DIGITAL STRATEGIES, ICT ECONOMICS, AND GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS

JFK’s Contribution to Global Communications

Posted on | November 21, 2013 | No Comments

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. – President John F. Kennedy, September, 1962

It was CLARKE~1Arthur C. Clarke, the author of many science fiction classics including 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) who published a seminal article on the possibilities of satellites in the 1945 edition of a British journal, Wireless World. The former radar engineer conceived the idea of putting satellites into an orbit high enough above the earth so that they could maintain pace with the revolving earth below. He reasoned that a satellite circling the earth at about 6,870 miles per hour, 22,300 miles above the equator would need 24 hours to complete its orbit. Three satellites or as he called them “rocket stations”, positioned in “geostationary orbit” approximately 120 degrees apart, could act as a worldwide telecommunications system. Each satellite could act like fixed radio repeater tower. Together they could provide interconnections between various points over the entire earth and between each other. Clarke’s idea helped propel the “Space Race” and the imagination of a new global communications system connecting countries and peoples around the world.

We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the tragic death of our 35th President. On November 22, 1963, shortly after noon, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas. Although he was only president for three years, he had an extraordinary influence on the development of our modern technological age, especially the rise (literally) of global communications and the fulfillment of Clarke’s vision.

President Eisenhower created NASA in 1958 in response to the Soviet Sputnik satellite launches, but Kennedy directed the space agency to send humans to the Earth’s Moon by the end of the 1960s. He laid out an initial vision on May 25, 1961 in a State of the Union address before Congress. It was less than half a year into his first term, but just weeks after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Concern mounted with the successful launch and landing of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. Although initially committed to unmanned space exploration, Kennedy saw how putting humans into space captured the public’s imagination and pushed astronaut flights to gather support for NASA. The space agency needed billions of dollars so they could design and build the rockets and systems needed to put larger civilian and military payloads into space.

In in his “Urgent National Needs” speech, Kennedy emphasized the need to recover from the ongoing recession and also reinforced a commitment to freedom in the southern hemispheres, particularly in Vietnam. He stressed the dangers of the Cold War and what was perceived as an USSR advantage in military superiority, especially in space and their “powerful intercontinental striking force”. Finally, he laid out the vision for space, specifying the importance of new and more powerful rockets and requesting $125 million dollars for “accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications”. A related concern was weather satellites. In all, Kennedy asked for over $7 billion for “a great new American enterprise” in space. It was within this context of national urgency that he set out the initial vision of going to the Moon by the end of the decade.

A year and a half later, Kennedy reinforced the vision of a Moon landing in his speech at Rice University. In September, 1962 while dedicating the new Manned Spacecraft Center (now called the Johnson Space Center) just outside of Houston. He emphasized the importance of science and technology and reinforced the importance of communications and weather satellites. He pointed out that the Mariner spacecraft was on its way to Venus and compared it to “firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and dropping it in this stadium between the 40-yard lines.” The imagery was intentional, missiles with nuclear warheads that could pinpoint targets in the US were becoming a practical reality.

By conflating space with national and civil defense, he was able to mobilize the resources for a combined national effort to travel to the Moon and “do the other things”: close the missile gap with the USSR, circle the Earth with satellites helping ships at sea, connecting military operations, and predicting weather conditions, as well as become the leaders of international communications. The same rockets that would go to the Moon would first set up a global network of communications satellites.

Work had begun that year on the creation of a consortium that would create a fleet of orbiting satellites to provide global communications. The capital expenditures of space communication systems were so expensive that it took the Communications Act of 1962 to mobilize the resources of NASA, the Department of Defense and AT&T, the largest corporation the world at the time to create the new domestic monopoly Comsat. Though initially designated as a private enterprise on February 1st, 1963, Comsat required initial funding by the US government. Soon after, former Under Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Joseph Charyk was named its first CEO. Comsat was chartered as a common carrier subject to the Communications Act of 1934 and its creation, the Federal Communications Commission. Given the extensive foreign relations nature of the company, the President was given the power to oversee its activities.

Comsat moved quickly to initiate the formation of Intelsat, an international telecommunications satellite consortium. In August of 1964, the organization was formed with 19 other countries with Comsat as the US Representative and main owner. The percentage of U.S. ownership was 61 percent compared to the next two largest owners: the United Kingdom with 8.4 percent and France with 6.1 percent. Other countries were skeptical because of the satellite’s ability to bypass national boundaries. Intelsat was careful to work with established national Post, Telephone and Telegraph (PTT) entities and the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) so satellites were gradually accepted around the world.

With the backing of the United States, the Intelsat program proved to be very PHONHOMsuccessful for the development of international telecommunications. Although undersea telegraph cables have been operating since 1866 and since 1956 for voice communications, they could not keep up with global demand by the 1960s. Hughes Aircraft launched the first three experimental geostationary orbit satellites in 1963 and 1964. While Syncom-1 never functioned properly, Syncom-2 transmitted telephone, telex and data communications across the Atlantic to Africa and Europe. Syncom-3 was launched over the Pacific and repeated a similar performance. Intelsat- 1, or “Early Bird” as it was named, became the world’s first commercial satellite when it was launched from Cape Kennedy on April 6, 1965.

Clarke’s vision of three geostationary “rocket stations” was realized in July of 1969 when Intelsat III was placed over the Indian Ocean Region. Launched Intelsat recoveryjust weeks before the Moon landing, Intelsat III offered 1,500 voice circuits or 4 TV channels, and carried President Nixon’s congratulatory telephone conversation with the astronauts.

As more satellites were launched, Intelsat was criticized for its natural monopoly model. Satellite proposals like the Orion and Finansat had challenged the status quo but their business models were based on “skimming the cream” off of prime routes such as that between the US and Great Britain. Nevertheless, President Clinton finally privatized Intelsat in 2000 to further competition in global communications.

Advances in fiber optic cables also challenged the satellite model. An undersea communications cable can move terabits of data each second while satellites lag with hundreds of megabits. Undersea cables such as the 18,000-kilometer-long SEA-ME-WE-4 linking countries from France, Egypt, Singapore and Indonesia have become international workhorses for the Internet. But by using spot beams, satellites can provide a tremendous amount of bandwidth for niche government, media, and corporate needs as well as provide important redundancy in case a cable is cut or otherwise damaged.

Although the dynamics have changed, JFK’s contribution to global communications lives on in a vibrant network of interconnected components that transmit our Facebook likes, blogs like this one, and other information and news that we value in our disparate, but global civilization.

Share

© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is the Professor of Global Media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He also taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii during the 1990s.

Comments

Comments are closed.

  • Referencing this Material

    Copyrights apply to all materials on this blog but fair use conditions allow limited use of ideas and quotations. Please cite the permalinks of the articles/posts.
    Citing a post in APA style would look like:
    Pennings, A. (2015, April 17). Diffusion and the Five Characteristics of Innovation Adoption. Retrieved from http://apennings.com/characteristics-of-digital-media/diffusion-and-the-five-characteristics-of-innovation-adoption/
    MLA style citation would look like: "Diffusion and the Five Characteristics of Innovation Adoption." Anthony J. Pennings, PhD. Web. 18 June 2015. The date would be the day you accessed the information. View the Writing Criteria link at the top of this page to link to an online APA reference manual.

  • About Me

    Professor and Associate Chair at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea. Recently taught at Hannam University in Daejeon, South Korea. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, media economics, and strategic communications.

    You can reach me at:

    anthony.pennings@gmail.com
    anthony.pennings@sunykorea.ac.kr

    Follow apennings on Twitter

  • Traffic Feed

  • Recent Posts

  • Pages

  • RSS CNN.com – RSS Channel – App Tech Section

    • Untitled
      Members of the Cassini mission say goodbye to the spacecraft, their coworkers and some long-held traditions.
    • Untitled
      Scientists are rethinking their understanding of Jupiter's powerful auroras after receiving data from NASA's Juno spacecraft.
    • Untitled
      New technology brings objects to life on your phone.
    • Untitled
      NASA is sending OSIRIS-REx, a robotic spacecraft, to an asteroid to study its role in our universe.
    • Untitled
  • September 2017
    M T W T F S S
    « Aug    
     123
    45678910
    11121314151617
    18192021222324
    252627282930  
  • Crossword of the Day

  • Disclaimer

    The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of my employers, past or present.