Times staffer Ralph Vartabedian has a fascinating report about the development, launch and personalities behind Syncom, the first communications satellite, which was built in Los Angeles and sent into orbit in 1963.
Of all the technological breakthroughs made in Los Angeles during the Cold War — the laser, the first supersonic jet fighter, the Apollo moon ship, stealth aircraft, the space shuttle, the intercontinental ballistic missile system and much else — the creation of a communications satellite has had the largest and most enduring cultural, social and economic impact.
After the satellite entered orbit, President John F. Kennedy had a somewhat-awkward conversation with Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
Several weeks after the Syncom launch, President Kennedy inaugurated international satellite telephone service to Nigeria, where the Navy had stationed its receivers. The symbolic phone call to Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa lasted two minutes.
Kennedy and Balewa traded pleasantries, briefly mentioned the nuclear weapons test ban treaty signed that year, and talked about a boxing match in which Nigerian middleweight boxer Dick Tiger had retained his title against an American.
Don’t miss the rest of Vartabedian’s report or Armand Emamdjomeh's excellent graphic that shows the proliferation of communications satellites.
— Matt Ballinger
(Photo: President John F. Kennedy speaks to the prime minister of Nigeria via the Syncom 2 satellite. Credit: Handout)