Closing Remarks at the Telstar 50th Anniversary Commemoration: A New World of Global Information
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
It is a real pleasure to be here this afternoon at this historic event. Thank you, Philippe, for that introduction. Thank you to the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum for hosting this event and to the Embassy of France and to the Cité des Telecoms.
Today has been a well-deserved commemoration and celebration of Telstar’s 50th Anniversary. As we are coming to the close of this symposium, I would like to focus on where we are today and what Telstar has taught us.
We live today in a global community more than we have ever before. We function in a global research community where new technologies are emerging at a rapid pace; technologies that began with ideas, research and development, with basic science, with innovation. Telstar has taught us important lessons.
The first of these lessons is that forward looking science is critical. The Telstar satellite shows us why this is true. Much of the technology that went into building this satellite didn’t necessarily have a practical application when developed, but was essential to its success. The electronics were enabled by the then recently discovered transistor, it had advanced solar cells for power, the “maser”—a forerunner to the modern laser—used in the ground stations in Maine and France.
There’s a recent book by Jon Gertner about Bell Labs, where he points out that Telstar incorporated the synchronous use of 16 inventions patented by the Labs over many years. Investments in basic science are essential to our future advances. We don’t always know where research will take us, what technologies we come up with today will be used for tomorrow. If you look at space technologies—they have given us body imaging scans, memory foam, and satellite TV. Technologies like these—they entertain us, they save lives and create jobs.
Supporting research and development and enabling technology development have been part of the U.S. history since its early days. The National Academy of Science was established in 1863 by President Lincoln. Today, President Obama and Secretary Clinton are champions for S&T and innovation, recognizing the critical role that science and technology plays in supporting economic growth, but also addressing very challenging global issues that we face around the world. President Obama has stated that, we will “harness the power of science to achieve our goals—to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.” Even in difficult budget times, the President’s budgets have called for strong, sustained Federal investments in research and development.
The second lesson that Telstar has taught us is that the Space sector is an engine of economic growth. The panelists’ remarks have more than proven the point. According to the Space Foundation, estimated total for the global space economy in 2011 was $290 billion in government budgets and commercial revenue. The Satellite Industry Association estimates that total satellite industry revenue was $177 billion in 2011. Revenue from commercial satellites comes mostly from services satellites provide—such as communications. Eighty percent of services revenues come from satellite TV.
We also know that there are many other spin-off technologies and evolving technologies. Satellite navigation systems, such as GPS are continually evolving. In the 1960s, Spacelabs Medical Inc. and NASA figured out how to remotely monitor the heath of astronauts. In 1968, Spacelabs Medical made that technical transition to earth and today we are all well aware of the significant role such monitors play in our hospitals every day.
The third lesson we learned from Telstar is that private sector partnerships and investment are essential. The U.S. government and the government of France have had a long history of partnership with companies and universities in developing and commercializing new technologies.
The governments of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom partnered with private industry to develop Telstar. Bell Labs designed and constructed the experimental satellite and paid NASA to launch it. Launched from Cape Canaveral on July 10, 1962, Telstar was the first privately-sponsored space launch. It set a number of important firsts, including being the first satellite to relay television, telephone, and high-speed data. It was the first active communications satellite.
Today, as you heard from earlier speakers, private corporations are going into space and preparing to take the public with them. NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Development Program is funding SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation. Two months ago, SpaceX successfully completed its mission to the Space Station and brought its Dragon Capsule to Earth. Orbital Science is scheduled to launch its first mission to rendezvous with the space station in October. And now the world’s first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic, is calling on us to “book our place in space” on their suborbital space vehicle. They are on track for their first powered flight by the end of the year—where they will fire up the space plane’s engines. Their test will eventually, hopefully, lead to revenue producing flights, taking passengers to the edge of space.
The final lesson that I want to mention today is that international cooperation is essential. The U.S. is a strong supporter of international cooperation in outer space activities and in communications activities. At the State Department, we recognize the importance of international science and technology cooperation. We support and promote international cooperation because of the role it plays in building partnerships and addressing very tough shared problems. It also stimulates economic growth and we know how important it is in informing policy decisions.
In March 1961, the U.S. signed agreements with the United Kingdom and France to collaborate on Experimental Communications Satellites that would be launched by the U.S.—starting with Telstar 1. Today, the United States has many bilateral and multilateral agreements on space, science, and technology. Through our science and technology agreements we work with other nations on areas of mutual importance. The United States and France have a robust collaborative research partnership through our bilateral agreement that we signed in 2008. We cooperate in health, biotechnology, energy, space, nanotechnology, archeology, agriculture, and climate change. And in many of those areas, space comes into play in terms of remote sensing and sharing data.
NASA has many agreements that are active at this time, over 500, some of which you are probably very familiar. The International Space Station comes to mind. There is the International Living with a Star Program that coordinates research missions to better understand the sun and how it affects our technology here on earth. There is the "A-Train"—a convoy of six satellites—shows the value of cooperating with other countries. This effort generates synergies far beyond what they could accomplish alone—increasing our understanding of water and energy cycles, factors that influence air quality, and also agricultural efficiency. The A-Train is an international effort. Two of the satellites were built and launched by France and Japan. A number of the instruments aboard the others were provided by France and Canada.
Today, we are communicating across the globe and we are seeing advances in our understanding of earth that we could not have imagined 50 years ago. Today, there are over 900 active satellites in orbit, with approximately 580 providing communications services. Almost 150 are used for Earth observation. Today, we need to work on the amount of data that we are getting. We are immersed in data. We face challenges of compatibility and interoperability. We are working internationally to build partnerships such as the international Group on Earth Observations. This is an international effort, a partnership of 88 countries and the European Commission, and nearly 64 international organizations. Started in 2003, this group seeks to establish the Global Earth Observation System of Systems. This will be an integrated effort where data will come from thousands of individual land, sea, air, and space-based Earth observations.
Beyond the challenge of data, we are also facing the challenge of making sure we are training the next generation of scientists and engineers who will create the inventions that we cannot even imagine as we sit here today. The Obama Administration has been committed and will continue to be committed to strengthening our national investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.
I am very optimistic about our future scientists and explorers. Space has always fascinated the young. That fascination brought us to the launch of Telstar 50 years ago and it brought us to where we are today. If we continue to follow the lessons that Telstar has taught us, we will certainly be able to improve the lives of many and learn more and more about the world and the universe around us.
Thank you very much.