Recently rediscovered audio recordings from the JPL archives, highlights the lab's involvement in America's first satellites for communication.




Recently, one of our audio technicians discovered a cache of audio recordings that have been sitting in a box some place at the Lab for decades. So the audio technician set out to digitize them and as a result is some really fantastic old recordings that sound new.

(Robertson Stevens)

"This is Robertson Stevens of the California Institute of Technology, Jet Propulsion Laboratory."


One was of President Eisenhower on a early recorded radio transmission between JPL and Bell Labs on the East Coast, via what was called the Echo Balloon.

It was a satellite balloon intended to be a communications satellite.


"This is President Eisenhower speaking. It is a great personal satisfaction to participate in this first experiment in communications involving the use of the satellite balloon known as Echo.

(The Big Bounce movie clip)

This is the satellite. A huge empty balloon here, shown while still in its hanger.

The inflated balloon is ten stories high, made of a strong new aluminized plastic.

Strong yet, only half as thick as the cellophane around a package of cigarettes.


One of the other tapes that our audio technician found was of a conversation between Jack James, who was the Mariner Interplanetary Program manager at the time here at JPL and Astronaut John Glenn.




"Yes, can you read me better now, Colonel?"


"Yes. Hear you loud and clear now. In good shape."


This was an active satellite called, "Project Relay," which retransmitted the conversation.


"Now, I understand we're on rather a long, long-distance hook-up."


"Yes sir, I think so. This Relay Satellite is doing a very good job, is it not?"


"Well, I was thinking the same thing here. This just sounds like normal telephone conversation. At the time we had our first satellite, I don't think any of us ever thought that we'd be talking to each other via satellite, just in this short time later..."


JPL takes the expertise it developed in communications generally and builds its own interplanetary network, which we call the Deep Space Network. And carries it on in to doing what it wanted to do, and explore the planets.

I love this kind of stuff because I'm a historian! It's critical for us to save our past because it can help inform our future.

(Lyndon B. Johnson)

Let us all continue to work to see that these new means of communication replace suspicion with understanding, hostility and isolation with cooperation and ignorance with free exchange of knowledge.

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