Listening to space

The end of the Second World War saw an end to the struggle for air dominance, as attention in the Cold War shifted increasingly to space.

The October 4, 1957 launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik thrilled observers all over the world. Amateur radio enthusiasts could tune into its "beep-beep" as it passed overhead, and a replica of the "traveling companion" had pride of place in the Soviet pavilion of the 1958 World Fair in Brussels.

The success of Sputnik as a media event, as much as its technical achievement, showed the communication potential of space. On December 18, 1958, the United States launched the first satellite with the explicit purpose of relaying communication: the project SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment). Launched from an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the satellite carried a tape-recorded message from US President Eisenhower:

'This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite traveling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind America's wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.'

Shortly after this unilateral effort in space, the United States sought to develop television links via satellite as well. This was far more involved than simply producing radio signals. They sought to collaborate with engineers in Britain and France, as well as West Germany to try to expand satellite communications into television. Britain and France had long been pioneers in television, as well as collaborators in previous attempts to bring television over borders. In 1950, they had collaborated in the first cross-border television in Europe, a week of programs from France relayed live to television sets in Britain.

The new forays into cross-border television had a far more contentious role on the world stage.

How to cite this page


Alexander Badenoch, 'Listening to space', Inventing Europe,



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Opening Europe to 'Mondovision': the start of satellite broadcasting

After Sputnik, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before sounds and images would be coming from space. Many dreamed that this would unify the the peoples of the world if they could all receive the same signals. When Telstar, the first communications satellite, was launched, however, it also revealed divisions on the ground.

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The Russian Sputnik

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